Tag Archives: migraine

Essential Oil Aromatherapy Roll-Ons and Balms for Relief of Migraine and Neuropathic Facial Pain

Updated with new items 11 Aug 2019

Disclaimer: This article is not medical advice: this is my experience only. The items listed here should not be used to diagnose, treat, or manage any condition. If you are on medication, you should not stop it without your physician’s knowledge and approval. Do not use any of these essential oils or aromatherapy products if you are allergic to any of the ingredients.

I was first diagnosed with migraine disorder when I was five. Although virtually all the women in my family had the neurological disorder, everyone called it “sick headaches” because of the nausea and crippling head pain that often accompany the attacks. When I was 9, a doctor noticed that I was having seizures during a migraine, but it would be another 30 years till a physician specializing in migraine told me I had hemiplegic migraine as well as migraine with and without aura. The recent crackdown on migraine and chronic pain patients, which involves some doctors’ refusing to write new prescriptions, as well as pharmacies and insurance companies’ refusing to fill (or refill) legitimate prescriptions, has been crippling many chronic pain and migraine patients. Recently, I detailed all the natural supplements and vitamins I’ve been using for the past two years that have helped reduce some of my chronic pain, even the excruciating pain of migraine attacks or neuropathic facial pain (formerly called trigeminal neuralgia). I’ve also found a few pre-mixed essential oil aromatherapy products that reduce this disabling nerve pain.

Aromatherapy is an alternative medicine, derived from herbal medicine, involving the therapeutic use of essential oils extracted from plants, herbs, flowers, trees, or other natural elements to reduce pain, anxiety, nausea, or insomnia, to boost your own immune system, or as a supplementary treatment with some cancer patients. Many civilizations have used aromatherapy as “complementary or alternative” therapies for thousands of years. Though some physicians consider aromatherapy to be “quackery,” there are limited studies indicating that the essential oils can be useful adjunctive therapy for critically or terminally ill patients as well as for chronic pain patients, and can be beneficial to patients experiencing anxiety and claustrophobia from the restrictive environment of MRIs, for instance. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy and the Alliance of International Aromatherapists govern national educational standards for aromatherapists, but essential oils are not evaluated, overseen, or controlled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

I’ve been using essential oil of lavender for over 20 years, after it was first recommeded by one of my doctors, but I’d never tried any other essential oils for pain. All of these essential oil aromatherapy roll-ons and balms are portable, diluted and pre-mixed (i.e., in a carrier oil) so they can be applied directly to the skin (but not near the eyes or mucous membranes). All of them have been helping reduce the migraine and neuropathic facial pain.*

Essential Oil Aromatherapy Roll-ons

Migrastil Migraine Stick
by MigraineStick

The first aromatherapy roll-on I tried was Migrastil Migraine Stick (ingredients: therapeutic grade essential oils of peppermint, spearmint, and lavender in a base of fractionated coconut oil) and when I put it on my temples and the back of my neck, I experienced a pleasant cooling sensation. Since I am unable to use ice or cold packs during a migraine attack, I found the cool sensation of the essential oils surprisingly comforting. (This is the only roll-on I’m using that has a plastic rollerball, and while that doesn’t seem to affect the cooling sensation or pain relief, I prefer the roll-ons with metal rollerballs because they feel cooler during application.) After I used Migrastil Migraine Stick for a few weeks, I researched some other aromatherapy roll-ons being sold for pain relief, specifically for migraine or headache relief. Because I felt better after using the Migrastil Migraine Stick roll-on, I was encouraged to look at some others.

Headache Be Gone
by Aromata

Headache Be Gone (ingredients: essential oils of lavender, peppermint, and frankincense in a base of almond oil) smells even more strongly of lavender, which I like, though it doesn’t give me as much of a cooling sensation as the Migrastil Migraine Stick. I used both of these roll-ons together as soon as I got them.

Lavender Calm
by Aromata

 

Because I like the metal rollerball of the Headache Be Gone, which makes the essential oil feel cool going on my skin, I researched more products from Aromata. I found Lavender Calm (ingredients: organic lavender and almond oil), and I love the fact that this roll-on enables me to carry essential oil of lavender with me when I have to leave home. I use this along with the other two roll-ons, as needed for pain.

Headache Relief Roll-On
by PrimeNatural

Headache Relief Roll-On (ingredients: essential oils of peppermint, Spanish sage, cardamom, ginger, and frankincense in a base of grapeseed oil) has a completely different scent from the previous roll-ons, and I initially got it because it included ginger, cardamom, and frankincense, all purported to be anti-inflammatories.

Frankincense
by Aromata

Aromata has become one of my new favorite companies: so far, I’ve liked all their pain-relieving roll-ons. After using their Headache Be Gone and their Lavender Calm, I decided to use their  Frankincense  (ingredients: essential oil of wild-grown frankincense in almond oil), which is one of the ingredients in Prime Natural’s Headache Relief Roll-on. Used in Ayurvedic medicine to reduce inflammation, frankincense  might  be useful to reduce pain for anyone who cannot tolerate essential oil of lavender well.

Essential Aromatherapy
Balms in a Stick

Aromatherapy balms and sticks are basically the same as the aromatherapy essential oil roll-ons except the balms have a firmer consistency. Since I’ve used Badger brand’s muscle balm, I was excited to use their headache and stress Soother balms, which are available in a stick, like a thick chapstick or lip balm in a tube. Both Headache Soother and Stress Soother are very pleasant smelling and relaxing. Though there are a few more ingredients in each (making my favorite essential oil, lavender, just a bit harder to distinguish), these essential oil sticks are very pleasant. I swipe these balms on my wrists and inhale deeply. At bedtime, these tend to help me fall asleep more quickly, which is always a relief when you’re in pain. I like both of the versions I tried.

Headache Soother
by Badger

 

Headache Soother has more ingredients than any of the roll-ons listed above, which made me initially hesitant to try it. However, I have used Badger’s Muscle Balm with great success, so I decided to try some of their other Soothers, which are more portable than their balms in a tin and don’t require you to dip your fingers into the balm to apply it to your skin. Headache Soother contains the following certified organic ingredients (I have not included the Latin names for these ingredients, all of which are listed on the label, preceding the English names):

Extra Virgn Olive Fruit Oil, Beeswax, Castor Seed Oil, Lavender Flower Oil, Menthol, Peppermint Leaf Oil, Sunflower Vitamin E, Eucalyptus Leaf Oil, Mandarin Peel  Oil, Sandalwood Oil, Calendula Flower Extract, Rosehip Fruid Extract

Stress Soother
by Badger

Stress Soother is also very effective when I’m in pain. Whether the anxiety before a migraine attack is my body’s instinctive warning sign of a migraine or is a result of the pain, it’s helpful to have products that can help with the anxiety that accompanies chronic pain. Badger’s Stress Soother is a good accompaniment to the essential oil roll-ons I’ve been using. Stress Soother contains the following certified organic ingredients (as above, I have not included the Latin names for  the ingredients, though Badger does supply all  of these on their labels):

Extra Virgin Olive Fruit Oil,  Beeswax, Tangerine Peel Oil, Lavender Flower Oil, Rosemary Leaf Oil, Cedar Wood Oil, Sunflower Vitamin E Oil, Spearmint Leaf Oil, Damascene Rose Flower Oil, Calendula Flower Extract, Rosehip Fruit Extract, Roman Chamomile Flower Oil

Badger instructs you not to use any of their aromatherapy sticks near your eyes, and,  as with any other product containing essential oils, you should never ingest them.

Drinking essential oils can cause liver or kidney damage, so do not ingest any essential oils. Putting an essential oil on your skin without first mixing it with a carrier oil, such as olive, almond, coconut, etc. can cause skin irritation or chemical burns, so do not use undiluted essential oils directly on the skin. Limited studies indicate that prolonged exposures to essential oils via inhalation, as in a diffuser or in a closed environment, might have some harmful effects, such as lung or eye irritation, after the essential oils’ initial benefits. Also, some essential oils can trigger allergy, asthma, or migraine attacks, so do not use essential oils without first consulting with your physician. Whether any essential oil precipitates a migraine attack, for example, rather than relieves the pain, is highly individual: eucalyptus can trigger a migraine attack for me, but lavender soothes it; for some with migraine disorder, lavender can trigger an attack.

I use all of these roll-ons and sticks now, all at the same time. I simply swipe each roll-on from temple to the general location of the trigeminal nerve root (in front of the ear) on each side, along my neck on both sides at the base of my skull, and down my spine from the base of the skull to the top of whatever shirt I’m wearing. I use the Badger aromatherapy balm sticks on my wrists and collarbone. I’ve been taking Gabapentin since October 2018, which reduces the pain but did not entirely eliminate it. Along with the natural supplements and vitamins detailed in my earlier article, these essential oil aromatherapy roll-ons and balm sticks have further reduced the migraine pain and, as an added benefit, have helped lower the neuropathic facial pain (trigeminal neuralgia) as well.


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Filed under Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia, chronic pain, Chronic Pain Treatment, healing, health, Health and Wellness, hemiplegic migraines, migraine, migraine self-care, Migraine Treatment, Migraine with Aura, Migraine Without Aura, migraines, Neruopathic Facial Pain, Neuropathic Facial Pain, trigeminal neuralgia, trigeminal neuropathy

Five Things Restaurants Can Do to Eliminate Migraine Triggers

I love going out to restaurants. It’s a real treat not having to cook an entire meal myself or enjoying dishes that are too complicated or time-consuming to make at home. Every once in a while, I like having someone wait on me, even if I’m only having a cup of tea or coffee with a fresh muffin while I read a book. No matter how much I may love dining out, however, there are many times when visiting a restaurant has triggered a migraine. Though I avoid known triggers and call potential ones to a manager’s attention when I’m out, it’s sometimes too late: the migraine has already started. I don’t want restaurants to become sterile, uninviting places, but I do wish that all restaurant owners, managers, and employees knew some of the most common triggers of migraines so these triggers could be eliminated before people with the neurological disorder of migraine even walk in. Their customers would then feel safer enjoying that meal away from home.

1. Control the Temperature

Temperature control is very important for most people who suffer from migraines since extreme variations and quick changes can trigger those pounding, one-sided headaches. For some of us, heat is a trigger, so, no thank you, we don’t want to sit at that table with the full sun shining on it. If there are blinds or shades, please do put them down even if our table is not right next to the windows. For many of us, that cold air blowing down from the air-conditioning unit will trigger a migraine. We’re not trying to be difficult when we ask to be moved to a different spot. We just want to enjoy our meal without getting stabbed in the head by the icepick-pain that is our migraine. Moderate temperatures probably work best for all customers, but it’s imperative for those who suffer from migraines. Please keep the restaurant at a more moderate temperature, neither stifling hot nor freezing cold.

2. Eliminate Any Flickering Lights

Whether it’s from those romantic candles on each table, from that television hanging in the corner above the bar, or from a failing fluorescent bulb in a ceiling fixture, lights can cause debilitating headaches in almost all of us diagnosed with migraines. If I ask to be seated someplace where I can’t see the flashing lights of sporting events or commercials, I’m trying to take care of myself, not annoy you. I can blow out a candle on the table to keep its flame from triggering a migraine, but I can’t fix that flickering fluorescent light on the ceiling, and moving to another table doesn’t always keep that blinking light from my peripheral view, and that, too, can trigger a migraine. Please check all the ceiling lights before opening each day, and replace any bulbs that are humming or flickering. Don’t light candles on individual tables unless the patrons request it or agree to it when they’re seated. We, too, may love romantic lighting, but nothing kills romance faster than the excruciating pain of a migraine. Please be aware that flickering lights are triggers, and eliminate them whenever possible.

3. Turn Down the Noise

I’ve only walked into a sports-bar restaurant once, and I immediately left because there were big-screen televisions everywhere, each turned to a different sporting event, all with their sounds blaring. When popular restaurants have the sound on the bar’s television turned completely off (sometimes with closed-captioning on for patrons who want to watch television while dining out), I’m very grateful. But that loud music pumping through the restaurant’s speakers can cause just as many headaches for those of us who suffer from migraines, and not because we don’t like whatever music you happen to be playing. If you have live musicians and we ask if their microphones could be turned down, we’re not trying to insult your musicians. We just want to eat our meal without having a migraine triggered by the noise. When patrons talk even louder to be able to hear each other over the already loud television volume or music, the migraine triggers are compounded. Keep ambient noise to a lower level so everyone can enjoy their dining experience, not just those of us who have migraines.

4. Avoid Strong Odors

Of course, anyone may encounter unfamiliar smells at a restaurant, especially if it serves ethnic food or other dishes with which patrons may not be familiar. Those kinds of smells don’t usually trigger a migraine for me, but that chlorine bleach or Lysol with which you cleaned your restrooms almost instantly causes a migraine. Cleaning product odors can trigger fierce headaches for countless people with migraine. I realize that you have a large volume of traffic in your restaurant, and that you want to keep your patrons safe from germs and contagious illnesses, but there are plenty of natural products free of such triggering odors, products that also disinfect and keep germs at bay. If you are prohibited from switching to more natural, less offensive-smelling disinfectants for some reason, you might clean your bathrooms a few hours before opening, and avoid cleaning them with strong-smelling products while diners are present in the restaurant to keep those powerful odors from triggering a migraine in the middle of a patron’s meal.

5. List All Food Ingredients & Additives

There are many food ingredients, natural and manufactured, that can trigger migraines. Those artificial sweeteners in your restaurant’s diet sodas and desserts may be fine for most patrons, but they cause migraines for many of us. Food allergies can trigger migraines — or worse, anaphylactic shock ( a life-threatening allergic reaction). As someone allergic to bees, I can’t have honey, raw or cooked, but honey is rarely listed as an allergen in restaurant foods.

MSG is a known migraine trigger, and restaurants that specialize in oriental foods are not the only ones that use it. MSG could be in the packaged gravy mix your cook uses for the homemade meatloaf, in the seasoned salt he sprinkles on the fish or meat, or in the bouillon cubes he tosses into the soup to make it taste richer. Other ingredients, like soy or yeast extract, can also trigger migraines even if the patron is not actually sensitive to MSG.

Some restaurants have their wait-staff memorize the ingredients in each dish; other restaurants have all ingredients hanging in the kitchen so the list can be consulted if patrons have questions. The wait-staff needs to be informed about such food and beverage triggers, and then trained to be diligent and knowledgeable when serving patrons. Even better, having every ingredient in every dish listed and available to patrons on request will protect all your patrons with food allergies, not just your customers with migraines who might be triggered by a dish’s ingredients. Any initial expense of printing all the ingredients would soon be recouped by loyal patrons who know they can eat your restaurant’s meals without fear of having a migraine triggered.

Though I don’t go out to eat regularly, I appreciate having a safe environment when I do go out to a restaurant. If the manager monitors the ambient noise level, is aware of climate control, and watches for any flashing or flickering lights, they can protect customers from being inadvertently exposed to migraine triggers. Additionally, I scrupulously avoid known food triggers, so when the wait-staff, cook, or manager can readily provide me with the complete ingredient list of any dish I order, they’re helping me take care of my own health and inspiring customer loyalty.

Related Posts

For more of my migraine articles,
see my Migraine & Chronic Pain page.

This article originally appeared on The Mighty and
was subsequently published on MigraineMantras.

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Filed under chronic pain, health, hemiplegic migraines, migraine, migraine self-care, Migraine with Aura, Migraine Without Aura, migraines

Why Getting a Medical ID for Hemiplegic Migraine Made Me Feel More Vulnerable

“You’re getting a migraine, aren’t you?” said my physician last year during one of my regular visits. “If you were pulled over, a policeman would think you were drunk or on drugs. If you were taken to a hospital, they would think you were having a stroke. Time for you to get a medical ID bracelet.”

I was so shocked that I just sat there staring at him, and not just because he’d said I sounded impaired. I was first diagnosed with migraines at age five and have suffered from the throbbing head pain, vision changes, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells all my life, as have many of the women in my family.

When I was 9, a doctor realized that I was having seizures when I had a migraine attack, though he did not give the headaches I was experiencing a different name. In my mid-thirties, a migraine specialist determined that I suffer not only from complex-complicated migraines but also from familial hemiplegic migraines, which are rare.

Hemiplegic migraines mimic strokes by causing temporary paralysis or numbness on one side of the body, loss of balance or coordination, and confusion or an inability to understand speech. Hemiplegic migraines can also cause speech difficulties such as slurring, dysphasia (words get mixed up or switched around in sentences), or aphasia (an inability to speak).

Most frightening, this type of migraine can cause changes in consciousness including seizures or coma. No one in my family who suffered from migraines ever carried anything other than pain medication, and though migraines with aura significantly increase the risk for stroke, no one in my family ever wore a medical alert. Now, however, medical ID bracelets are being recommended for people diagnosed with hemiplegic migraines since so few physicians are familiar with the symptoms.

Once I got over my initial shock at my doctor’s suggestion that I wear a medical ID bracelet, I welcomed the idea of the bracelet, if only because I thought I would feel safer wearing a medal with “Hemiplegic Migraines, Aphasia & Seizures” inscribed under my name and emergency contact numbers. To my surprise, I was terribly depressed upon receiving the bracelet. For months, I was so depressed that I found myself constantly “forgetting” to put the medical alert bracelet on. Because my doctor insisted I wear it, I had to figure out why the medical ID bracelet depressed me. This is what I came up with.

My medical condition was no longer private.

Many people describe migraines as an “invisible illness” because the suffering can’t be seen, and I suppose I felt more comfortable having a condition that most people didn’t know about. With the medical ID bracelet, instead of my life partner and close friends being the only ones who know I have migraines, everyone who sees me now knows something’s wrong with me. I’m wearing a bracelet that says so. Even though the bracelet is for my safety, it felt like an intrusion into my privacy.

I felt like a failure.

I take care of myself by getting plenty of sleep, avoiding dietary and situational triggers, and by walking, doing yoga, and meditating almost every day. I’ve tried every anti-depressant and anti-seizure medication on the market to get my migraines under control, but wearing a medical bracelet listing my condition made me feel as if I hadn’t done enough. The bracelet didn’t change the frequency or severity of my migraines, but it made me feel I have somehow failed to prevent them.

I felt like my migraines were my fault.

Migraines are neurological conditions, and researchers are still investigating whether all types of migraines may be inherited. Both sporadic (not inherited) and familial (inherited) hemiplegic migraines definitely involve genetic defects or mutations that upset neurochemicals in the brain, causing the symptoms of the aura and the pain of the migraine. Despite knowing all that on a conscious level, having to wear the medical ID bracelet made it somehow seem as if the migraines were my fault, which I had never felt before.

I felt like I was wearing a sign on my forehead.

I readily admit that I’ve had to make a lot of lifestyle changes and adjustments because of my migraines. I can’t go to concerts or movie theatres because the high volume triggers a migraine. I avoid grocery aisles with humming or flickering fluorescent lights that can instantly cause both a severe migraine and its associated seizures. I use only unscented lotions, soaps, or shampoos, nor can I be around anyone who’s wearing perfume because it causes migraines. I have to know every ingredient of every dish I eat that I don’t make myself to avoid food triggers like artificial sweeteners or additives (e.g., MSG): those things can cause migraines, and hemiplegic migraines can cause seizures which can lead to coma.

I’ve been called “neurotic” by more than one person in my life, including doctors who dismissed my symptoms as “all in my head” when they didn’t know anything about hemiplegic migraines. I guess I never minded being considered “neurotic” because I knew that I was taking care of myself. Though I’m unable to work when I have a migraine, I never considered myself to have a chronic illness let alone a disability. Wearing the medical ID bracelet made me feel like I was chronically ill as well as disabled. Further, the medical alert made me feel like I was wearing some shameful Disabled sign on my forehead for everyone to see.

To my surprise, my life partner was very pleased when I got the ID bracelet. He admitted, for the first time in almost 25 years together, that he has always been concerned about my having a migraine-induced seizure: he worried that he would be unable to adequately explain hemiplegic migraines to medical personnel. The instructors in my T’ai Chi and Kundalini Yoga classes looked so relieved when I showed them the bracelet that I felt quite guilty for not having gotten it sooner. When I went to a new dentist and then to an oral surgeon to have a dying tooth extracted, both doctors immediately asked about the medical alert and were then pleased to know that my medical condition, which neither had ever heard of before, was clearly indicated on the bracelet.

One day when I went to the grocery last month, I actually forgot to put my bracelet on. After I realized that I’d left it at home, I became anxious that I might experience an aura and have difficulty speaking while I was among strangers. That was when I understood that my initial depression over wearing the medical ID bracelet had completely disappeared.

After wearing my medical ID bracelet for almost a year, I can honestly say that I am happy to have it. I wear it every day, even at home, and have it on 24-hours a day when I have a migraine in case of seizure. I feel only safety wearing the medical alert bracelet now, and I encourage anyone who has a severe, chronic, or rare medical condition to wear one.

Related Posts

For more of my migraine articles,
see my Migraine & Chronic Pain page.

This article, in a slightly altered form, was first published
on  The Mighty and reprinted on MigraineMantras.

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Filed under health, hemiplegic migraines, migraine, migraine self-care, Migraine with Aura, Migraine Without Aura, migraines

This Is Your Brain on Migraine

Impacting not just the head but the entire body, migraine is the most common neurological disorder, affecting 10-15% of the adult population. For comparison, epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder (after migraine, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease). Unfortunately, few people completely understand the mechanism of migraine. Even doctors, neurologists, and scientists who specialize in migraine research do not necessarily understand everything about this disorder, if only because few of them have ever suffered its agonizing pain.

To make the process of migraine clearer for everyone, let’s imagine your body as a house run entirely by electricity. When the power supply works well and is uninterrupted, you have all the modern conveniences: light, heat, air-conditioning, refrigeration, computers, and Internet. The brain’s 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) are your body’s power system: its wiring and its electricity. Neurons enable you to breathe, move, and think. The neurons in the brain’s outermost layer — the cortex — process information from the senses, regulate body temperature, initiate movement, and enable such complex processes as memory, attention, speech, analytical thinking, and problem-solving. Electrical power makes your house and your body run more efficiently.

Now, imagine your house during an electrical brownout. Too little voltage, as in a dip, and lights noticeably dim, fans slow, and electronic devices sound a warning. Too much voltage, as in a surge, and appliances and electronics can be damaged. This is your brain during an aura. Cortical neurons fire abnormally, in dips and surges, causing symptoms which can include visual disturbances, nausea, clumsiness, or vertigo. Strange tastes, unusual smells, rapid fluctuations in body temperature, and speech difficulties are relatively common. The irregularities in your brain’s electrical system during an aura’s brownout can cause insomnia, depression, irritability, anxiety, brain-fog, and fatigue.

Of course, if you aren’t home during an electrical brownout, or if you’re asleep during an aura, you won’t notice the electrical havoc. Only 20-25% of those with migraines report aura, though some researchers suspect that migraine sufferers may not always notice aura symptoms or associate them with subsequent head pain. Some people with migraine may not associate fleeting irritability, occasional insomnia, or mild depression with an aura because, just as electrical brownouts are not always followed by a complete power outage, auras are not always followed by the crippling pain of a migraine.

Now, imagine your house during a complete power outage. Though the house is still standing, nothing in it that depends on electricity will work. That means no light, no washers and dryers, no television or computers. Without electricity, almost all modern conveniences are unavailable or inoperable. This is your brain on migraine. Instead of firing abnormally, in dips and surges, the cortical neurons across the brain begin to shut down completely. In a wave called Cortical Spreading Depression (CSD), the neurons in the brain’s cortex — the nerve cells that process sensory input, control movement, and enable both speech and thinking — go into “electrical silence” and don’t fire at all. It’s a power outage in your brain.

Why is this neural blackout in the brain so painful? Research indicates that migraine pain is likely due to inflammation of the trigeminal nerve — the largest nerve in the head — responsible for motor control, touch sensation, and pain perception in the scalp, face, eyes, nose, sinuses, cheeks, jaw, teeth, and gums. This inflammation of the trigeminal nerve appears to be directly triggered by the brain’s electrical blackout during Cortical Spreading Depression. When deliberately induced in the brain of a rat, a CSD neural blackout activated the pain-transmitting trigeminal nerve system in the meninges: the sensitive membranes covering the brain. Trigeminal nerve pain, as anyone who has ever experienced a migraine knows, is excruciating and debilitating.

Usually, after a blackout in a residential area, electrical power is restored, and life in your home returns to normal. Since people rarely die during power outages, they are usually not life-threatening. You don’t suffer physical pain during a power outage either, so it’s merely an inconvenience. This is where the analogy ends.

People with migraine suffer incapacitating pain during CSD’s neural blackout. Even after a migraine, when the neurons start firing relatively normally again, it’s highly probable that another wave of CSD and its associated pain will strike. Despite taking medication, effecting lifestyle changes, and avoiding as many triggers as possible, people with migraine cannot entirely eliminate the auras or the pain. Unlike the electrical system of a house, which can be upgraded to reduce brownouts and power outages, our brains cannot be upgraded to reduce abnormal neuron-firing, Cortical Spreading Depression, or CSD-triggered migraine pain.

There is some good news, however. In 2017, an international team of researchers discovered a “genetic particularity” that is more common in those who have migraine, with or without aura. This is the “first irrefutable genetic link” regarding the most frequent forms of migraine. Perhaps, one day soon, researchers will be able to determine ways to adjust and regulate the brain’s complex electrical system, reducing or even eliminating the neural brownouts that are thought to cause aura, as well as the CSD neural blackouts that trigger the incapacitating pain of migraines.

Related Posts

see my Migraine & Chronic Pain page

[Illustration of trigeminal nerve branches credit:
Trigeminal Nerve Branches, by John Charles Boileu Grant,
An Atlas of Anatomy, by Regions, 1962. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia]
(A version of this article was originally published on MigraineMantras.)

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Filed under chronic pain, hemiplegic migraines, migraine, Migraine with Aura, Migraine Without Aura, migraines

What Is Hemiplegic Migraine?

The smell of smoke woke me in the middle of the night. I got out of bed fast, prepared to evacuate my apartment. I heard people talking and assumed that others were already leaving the building. When I got to the hallway, however, it was empty: there was no smoke, and there were no people.

Cautiously, I went to the floors above and below mine, where I could still smell something burning and hear the hum of voices. I went to the parking lot, thinking people were congregating outside. No one was around, and all the apartments in the building were dark. I went back to my place, firmly convinced that there was an electrical fire in one of my outlets.

After an hour of crawling around smelling each outlet, I was more confused than ever. No smell seemed to be coming directly from any of the outlets, yet when I stood back up, I could most definitely smell electrical fire. I could still hear people talking, too, though no one seemed to be close enough for me to hear them clearly: I couldn’t make out the actual words of the conversation. I was up most of the night, crying and waiting for disaster to strike. The next day, when I smelled gasoline and still heard several voices faintly talking to each other, despite my being at home alone all day, I thought I was losing my mind.

Gasoline, cigarette smoke, electrical fire, propane gas – I’ve smelled all of them for no reason in my life, and it took years before I was brave enough to admit it to anyone. Even then, I only told my doctor because I was also experiencing such dreadful tingling and weakness in my left hand that I kept dropping things, and because my left foot was numb so often that I limped and stumbled along, unable to feel my foot.

When I finally admitted smelling strange, non-existent odors, along with hearing “voices” without understanding the words, my doctor began to question me about other possible symptoms. She mentioned strange tastes, temporary mental confusion, an infrequent inability to speak, instances of my words coming out jumbled and mixed up, or my losing consciousness without warning.

I’d been having non-convulsive seizures during the migraine attacks at least since the age of 9, when a doctor noticed that I sometimes lost consciousness during migraine. Because I was diagnosed with migraine at age 5, and because virtually all the women in my family also had migraine, the doctor said she thought she knew what was causing all those frightening neurological symptoms.

After sending me for multiple medical tests to ensure that I was not developing multiple sclerosis and that I had not had a stroke, the doctor diagnosed Familial Hemiplegic Migraine, a rare form of migraine disorder.

Hemiplegic Migraine

Hemiplegic Migraine (HM) is caused by mutations in one of at least 4 genes, preventing the neurons from firing normally, causing partial numbness, tingling, or paralysis on one side of the body (hemiparesis) along with the other migraine aura symptoms such as visual disturbances or speech difficulties. HM can also cause impaired consciousness, ranging from confusion to profound coma. Familial HM is inherited: other family members with migraine have similar neurological symptoms. Though Sporadic HM can occur after head trauma, and though he same genetic mutations are involved, Sporadic HM is not inherited, so it does not run in families.

The pronounced neurological symptoms of Hemiplegic Migraine make it a subdivision of Migraine with Aura, which can cause heightened sensitivity to smells and to light, as well as nausea and vomiting during the migraine itself. Although the debilitating pain of migraine does not always follow the aura symptoms of light sensitivity or nausea in other forms of migraine, virtually everyone who experiences the one-sided neurological symptoms of Hemiplegic Migraine, whether familial or sporadic, has the excruciating one-sided head pain after the aura.

Though it’s uncommon for the neurological symptoms to remain after the pain of the migraine has passed, HM can cause prolonged weakness, extended memory problems, or mild but permanent difficulties with movement and coordination. A few doctors and researchers seem to believe that Hemiplegic Migraine “disappears” after age 50, but most people do not get miraculous relief from these migraine attacks as they age. Unfortunately, triptans and ergotamines, which are sometimes used to prevent or treat other forms of migraine, are contraindicated in those with Hemiplegic Migraine because those prophylactic medications often trigger strokes.

Despite the worrying symptoms, a diagnosis of Hemiplegic Migraine can actually be a relief for migraine sufferers. Their strange neurological symptoms are part of a rare migraine disorder that not only has a name, but is a recognized illness and disability.

(This post is an excerpt of my post originally published on MigraineMantras.)

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