How I Cured My Vestibular Migraine
“My first migraine started in college when I was 18 years old. It was so bad that it caused me to miss classes for days on end.
It felt like my head would explode. The pain came from within my inner ear; specifically, the area called the utricle (the fluid-filled structure that moves us around while we’re sleeping). When this part of my brain became inflamed, it sent signals to my nerves about where I should be looking — whether I was moving or sitting still. This triggered nausea and other symptoms including dizziness, visual problems, headaches, tingling sensations and more.
I tried all sorts of treatments such as over-the-counter medications, acupuncture, chiropractic care and even massage therapy to relieve these uncomfortable feelings. Nothing worked until I discovered something else that did work. Now, several years later, I have an entirely different relationship with migraines and a new approach to treating them.
Like many people who experience vestibular migraines, mine were triggered by motion. But unlike most sufferers, my episodes only occurred at night after I had gone to bed. They also happened repeatedly throughout the day without any warning signs or pattern. And because they lasted for hours or sometimes days, I couldn’t predict when one might start.
The problem is that there are no good studies on how best to treat vestibular migraines. There’s some evidence that medication may help, but doctors don’t know if these drugs provide lasting relief or which patients will respond well to specific ones. For example, topiramate has shown promise in reducing frequency, duration and severity of attacks, but not everyone responds positively to it. Similarly, beta blockers, antidepressants and others may improve symptoms for some people, but not for others. Even if you find a drug that works, there’s no guarantee that your doctor will prescribe it. In fact, many specialists aren’t trained to diagnose or treat these types of conditions.
So what’s a person to do? How can anyone manage their own condition if there’s no consensus about treatment options?
That’s exactly why I decided to try out a new strategy myself. After researching everything I could get my hands on, I eventually found that the underlying mechanisms behind vestibular migraines are similar to those involved in migraines associated with other causes, like blood vessel inflammation. As a result, I’ve seen success using the same kind of lifestyle changes I employ every day to control migraines associated with blood vessels. These include eating healthy foods, getting enough exercise, cutting down on alcohol consumption, taking supplements and following a meditation routine.
Here are five tips that helped me tame my vestibular migraines:
1. Exercise regularly
Exercise reduces inflammation in our bodies and muscles. Research shows that it can also lower levels of a protein called interleukin 6 (IL-6) that’s linked to triggering migraines. A study published recently in PLOS One suggests that exercise may help decrease the risk of developing vestibular migraines altogether.
One reason for this link between IL-6 and migraines is that both trigger inflammatory responses in our bodies when they occur. Another possibility is that genetics play a role here. While scientists aren’t sure yet, some research points to variations in genes coding for proteins known as cytokines as being related to susceptibility to vestibular migraines.
When I experienced my initial attack back in college, I didn’t feel able to go running or engage in any strenuous activity. Instead, I chose yoga and walking. Although neither one provides long-lasting relief, they’re better than nothing. You can use these strategies along with other movement activities, like swimming, Tai Chi, Pilates or dancing. If you struggle with physical limitations, consider talking to your doctor before starting an exercise program. He or she may recommend working up to certain activities and then slowly build up your strength and flexibility through gentler movements.
2. Eat healthfully
Eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients helps keep our cells strong and prevents inflammation. Avoid junk food and sugary snacks. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that protect against free radicals and oxidative damage. Vitamins B12 and D3, zinc and selenium are important immune system boosters that can help ward off infection. Omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil also support cardiovascular function and reduce inflammation.
You’ll want to make smart choices about what goes into your mouth. Look for whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, fruits and veggies instead of highly processed versions of each category. Choose organic produce whenever possible. Also consider supplementing your diet with omega 3s, vitamin E, probiotics (like acidophilus), garlic, cinnamon, magnesium and calcium. To take advantage of these additional benefits, talk to your doctor first. Some of these substances have side effects that need to be monitored.
3. Manage stress
Stress makes the world spin faster. It doesn’t stop just because you’re feeling anxious and worried. Stress hormones released during times of high anxiety can cause increased heart rate and breathing, leading to muscle tightness, fatigue and headache.
In addition to changing your mindset, there are actually ways to change your environment to help regulate your emotions. Try going outside for a short walk or run, playing music you love, spending time with friends and family, doing things that bring you joy, exercising, meditating or practicing deep breathing exercises. Don’t forget to give yourself permission to relax.
4. Sleep peacefully
Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating our moods, energy levels and overall health. Lack of sleep disrupts hormonal balance, weakens immunity and increases vulnerability to infections.
For people with vestibular migraines, poor quality sleep seems to be a major factor in worsening symptoms. People with insomnia often complain of headache pain and other symptoms due to vestibular disorders. One theory is that lack of sleep leads to excess production of cortisol, a hormone that’s responsible for keeping our stress response under control. Cortisol is also believed to enhance inflammation.
To combat these negative effects, experts suggest establishing a bedtime routine that includes winding down with relaxing activities, setting realistic goals and sticking to them. Treatments like meditation, yoga or progressive relaxation techniques can also increase calmness and promote restful sleep.
5. Take preventive steps
There are some simple actions you can take to prevent bouts of vertigo or migraines. Consider wearing sunglasses and sunscreen. Limit exposure to bright light and heat. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing made of breathable fabrics. Make sure your home is cool and dark. Keep windows closed or covered to block sunlight. Avoid alcohol, smoking and caffeine.
Vestibular migraines happen to thousands of people worldwide every year. Mine used to strike four to seven times per month. Now, thanks to a combination of lifestyle modifications, I’m able to cut my number of episodes dramatically.
If you’d like to learn more about vestibular migraines or see if you’re suffering from them, contact your healthcare provider or neurologist. ”
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