Migraines are the 3rd most prevalent disorder in the world, and they are more prevalent in women than in men. Migraines are considered a primary brain disorder that are characterized by recurrent attacks of head pain associated with autonomic nervous system dysfunction (a branch of our nervous system that acts as a control center for functions such as breathing, heart beat and digestion). Typically, there are triggers that act as a threat to the brain which can start a migraine. Triggers can be anything from food, activity, environment or fatigue.

A migraine usually lasts anywhere from four to seventy-two hours if untreated. How often migraines occur varies from person to person. There are many types of migraines and sometimes people experience short lasting issues with other sensory systems such as vison, vestibular (can develop vertigo), speech and language. Migraines that have accompanying neurological symptoms are known as migraines with “aura”.  In some types of migraines, people don’t even experience headaches or pain at all – the auras are the only migraine signs!

Although you may experience headaches with a migraine it is important to understand that you do not have to have head pain to have a migraine. Headaches and migraines are actually different events all together. Headaches are typically more related to muscle tension whereas migraines are a neurovascular headache that can happen in the brain in response to triggers. With headaches, people typically experience muscle tension/pain, have non-pulsating bilateral head pain (pain is on both sides of the head), and there are no associated symptoms such as dizziness, vision changes, nausea etc. With migraines, pain is usually unilateral (on one side of the head), is pulsating in nature, can be worsened with activity or by triggers and these individuals can have associated symptoms of dizziness/nausea/vertigo etc. Some common migraine triggers include: alcohol (specifically red wine), aspartame sweetener, tomato, avocado, eggplant, caffeine, chocolate, citrus, dairy products, dehydration, change to sleep patterns and stress.

If you or someone you know suffers from migraines it is recommended that you keep track of your migraines as well as eating and activity habits in a journal to help identify potential triggers. An app on your phone called “Migraine Buddy” can assist you to keep track of these symptoms. If you notice that you experience migraines more often after eating a certain food, you can see if eliminating it from your diet reduces the frequency of your migraines.

Non-pharmacological treatment of migraines consists of careful management of lifestyle factors and specific migraine triggers, with behavioural interventions such as relaxation technique, stress management, pacing, cognitive behavioural therapy, and biofeedback. Some non-pharmacological supplements such as Magnesium, Riboflavin (B2), Q10, Butterbur may also be helpful, but it is best to speak to your doctor before trying anything new. If your symptoms continue, it may be beneficial to speak to your doctor about seeing a neurologist.

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