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Migraines: Symptoms and Soothers

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McGill chapter.

Anyone who gets migraines knows that they are one of the worst feelings in the world. As someone who has been hospitalized multiple times due to the severity of my migraines, I know better than most exactly how painful they can be. But what are migraines? What should you know if you think you experience them? What are some things that can help diminish your pain? My tips may not be universal, but I have acquired some knowledge that has helped me better manage my own migraines. Hopefully they help you, too!

So, what is a migraine? Many people misdiagnose themselves with migraines if they get bad headaches, however; migraines are usually concentrated to one side of the head, with a feeling of throbbing or stabbing, and generally last much longer than traditional headaches. Often, migraines can cause nausea or vomiting, as the body cannot physically handle that amount of pain. Other people have additional symptoms such as aura, which feels like a flashing light or an inability to see out of one or both eyes; some people even experience a tingling/numbing sensation of the hands, arms, or legs. I’m unlucky enough to experience all of these symptoms, so I’ve had to find ways -in addition to seeing my doctor- to help cope with the pain. 

First, it is important to know what triggers your migraines. Some experience migraines hormonally, in reaction to alcohol, or certain foods, or due to a combination of multiple factors. Personally, my migraines tend to be triggered by changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature. If you suffer from migraines, it is important to know your primary trigger, as it will help you be better prepared, and thus be able to avoid or subdue your pain. For example, if I see that Wednesday’s temperature is 16 degrees, while Thursday is only going to be 7, I can almost guarantee that I will get a migraine, so I prepare as many preventative measures as possible.

Experiencing migraines since I was a child has made me well-equipped in activities that can help diminish the unbearable pain. First of all, for me, a shot of caffeine (like an espresso) can be a life-saver. Before migraines, your blood vessels tend to enlarge, but caffeine can have vasoconstrictive qualities which help with pain relief. If I have an espresso when I’m just starting to feel symptomatic, it can sometimes prevent the migraine all together. I would also recommend not taking anything in your coffee or espresso, as sugar and dairy can make migraines worse. It is also important to know your body! Even though this works for me, for some people, caffeine has an adverse effect. 

Another temporary pain reliever is to hold a piece of ice in your hands or put your hands in freezing cold water. I’ve even grabbed a block of snow in each hand on my way home from a lecture when I was really desperate (perhaps the singular benefit of Montreal winters?). Similar to caffeine, the coldness can narrow blood vessels and ease your pain. I also feel like the cold focuses my pain more within the pressure points in my hands than in my head, which can be a big relief, even it is only temporary. 

I also find that hot showers on a high-pressure setting—focused on the nerves either on my head or pressure points on the back of my neck—can help with relief. This trick can help increase blood flow, while massaging the pressure points within your head or neck. Similarly, you can massage different pressure points on your body, like the one between your thumb and your index finger, in order to temporary alleviate some pain. 

Migraines are terrible, and if you’re unfortunate enough to experience them, they are pretty much unavoidable. Although these tips may not work for everyone, hopefully, if you suffer from migraines, one or all of these remedies can be a starting point to reduce your pain.


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Mara Lamont

McGill '20

Mara Lamont is a 4th year Political Science student at McGill University with minors in Italian and Marketing. She is an aspiring lawyer, interested in defending people who may not otherwise be given a voice. Outside of the classroom, her interests include yoga, baking and reading classic literature.