Wednesday 1 December 2004

Inadvertent science.

I suffer from migraines. Always have. They're a fascinating subject, except when you actually have one, when they're just shit.

I've been getting far fewer of them lately, largely thanks to chiropractice. One of the major causes of migraines is neck muscle tension, as the muscles in your neck stretch over the top of your scalp and down your forehead to somewhere around your eye sockets, so screwed-up muscles in your neck can cause agonising pain behind your eyes. Usually, sufferers don't even realise that their neck is in pain at all. Chiropractors do a great job of lowering the number of migraines you generally get: regular chiropractic treatment has lowered my rate from at least one a week to four or five a year. Anyway, the upshot of this is that a bit of a neck massage can cure a migraine, which is very handy to know.

Another good treatment for individual migraines is ibuprofen, miracle painkiller extraordinaire. Aspirin's good, too. Aspirin's frowned on these days, because it makes your stomach bleed, apparently. People who've never had a migraine in their life simply don't appreciate the extent of the pain. Not only do I happily take a drug that rots my stomach if it'll only stop the pain; if it was guaranteed to cure migraines, I'd take a drug that kicked me in the kidneys, chopped my legs off, and broke my spine.

If your doctor is sympathetic, you can get something called Naramig on prescription, and it's just fantastic. It's not a painkiller: it addresses the actual cause of the pain (something to do with blood vessels). By sheer coincidence, it also works well at alleviating neck tension, so helps that kind of migraine too.

There was some interesting research done on caffeine recently, which revealed that it is a better headache treatment than ibuprofen — though combining the two works best of all. The interesting thing is that a lot of caffeine in your diet can cause migraines, but, if you avoid the stuff generally, a big dose of caffeine can kill a headache stone dead. I now drink caffeine-free Diet Coke, but keep some of the normal stuff in the house, just in case. It's really worked very well.

So, when I get a migraine, I take some ibuprofen, drink loads of Diet Coke, and ask Vic (my wife) to give my neck muscles a tweak, which she's very good at. I always think it'd be great to know which of these methods works the best, but the overwhelming desire to get rid of the pain has always stopped me experimenting: the last thing I want to do is try just one method in isolation and it be the one that doesn't work at all.

But there's another interesting side-effect of migraines: they shut down your digestion. This is why I stopped taking Naramig. I didn't want to waste a precious pill on a minor pain that could be got rid of with a bit of aspirin (which is about 50 times cheaper), and, by the time I'd realise that I needed the big guns, it would be too late: the Naramig would just sit in my stomach, which would defiantly refuse to digest it.

So I got home in agony last night. It was one of those sneaky ones that zips from a minor twinge to hell itself before I realise what's going on. I took some ibuprofen, drank over 2 litres of Diet Coke, and got a superb-as-ever neck massage from Vic. And the pain went away pretty quickly. Result.

Unbeknownst to me, however, the migraine hadn't been cured at all: only the pain had. Migraines are complicated and surreptitious phenomena, and they pull this kind of stunt sometimes. My stomach had been well and truly shut for business, and I, thinking the lack of pain implied cure, had a nice big meal. Oops. I stayed awake, feeling sick, until about four this morning, then I vomited for a while, then I had insomnia until about ten minutes before my alarm went off and I had to go to work. And they tell me there's a God.

The point of all this (yes, there's a point) is that I finally did my experiment, albeit unintentionally. I can exclusively reveal that a neck massage alone is enough to relieve migraine pain. Neither the ibuprofen nor the Diet Coke were ever digested.

To say that this important discovery adequately compensates me for the way I feel right now would be a lie.


andy said...

Interesting post, Jo. Lee gets terrible migraines too, so I'll mention all your suggested remedies to her. What I normally do is put the lights off, and rub her head, which seems to help, but I reckon it just helps the pain, rather than the cause.

Interestingly, when she has just a headache (she gets them more often than migraines, but they're *very* different...), something that she says really helps is getting her feet rubbed. Of course, it could be that the headache is just to get out of sex, and that she ahs a foot fetish, but I though it worth mentioning all the same.

Hope you're feeling better.

Squander Two said...

You can get eyemasks from Boots that are filled with that blue freeze-gel stuff. You keep them in the fridge and they get seriously cold. If you're going to be lying in the dark with a migraine, it's a very good idea to put one of them on. (I think they're intended as some sort of beauty treatment, but sod that.)

Anonymous said...

Many migraines are diet reactions. No, honestly, I'm a scientist and this is real, not alternative lifestyle mince.

My father suffered agonies for years (family holidays were ruined) until he worked out that his migraines were set off by chocolate. No more chocolate, no more migraines.

Stop chocolate, strong cheese, red wine (not all at once of course), and see what happens. There are other known triggers.

Squander Two said...

Oh, I know: like I said, too much caffeine in your diet is one trigger. They don't work for everyone, though, and they vary wildly: I wouldn't touch orange juice if I already had a migraine, as it'll probably make it worse, but I can safely drink gallons of the stuff when I don't have a migraine. And the chocolate and cheese aren't triggers for me. Wine is a trigger for me: I can't even smell the stuff. And there's a food additive that gives me migraines: it used to be used in orange squash when I was a kid, but isn't any more, though it's still in Irn Bru and in orange flavour Revels. Luckily, I can smell it a mile off, so never make the mistake of eating any. When I was a kid, the smell of cooking sweetcorn would cause instant pain; not any more.

The problem with the dietary triggers is so many doctors have decided that they're universal. Tell your GP that you get migraines, and chances are that they'll just tell you to give up red wine and chocolate and leave it at that. Which is very, very annoying.