The Migraine Detective
A new era of migraine management and treatment is underway with the rise of technology and devices such as smart phones.
Apps can already track and record your sleep, stress, diet and exercise. This provides unprecedented levels of personalisation and customised strategies to better manage your condition. MigrainePal.com is an example of this for migraineurs. By tracking and using the information available to you, you can become a smarter, more self-aware and engaged, or what we like to call ‘Migraine Detectives’.
How can you become a Migraine Detective? It starts with an important realisation.
You are the most important person on your healthcare team
As mentioned previously, my condition became progressively worse over several years until I could experience six attacks a week.
Reluctantly I realised that the treatments from my doctors and specialists were not working.
Finally, I decided I would stop abdicating all responsibility to them and take more ownership over my condition.
This was the epiphany I wish I’d had years earlier. To begin taking more control over your condition, you literally have to stand up and take it. No one will give it to you.
It’s a profound shift in perspective, attitude and involvement towards your condition.
But if I can do it, you can too.
How to start?
Over the coming weeks think of yourself as a detective… The crime, your migraines
You will need to employ every ounce of awareness to uncover new insights about yourself. To record and monitor almost obsessively every potential trigger or “suspect”.
Do this on a daily basis and consistently with a diary. The MigrainePal diary is designed to help uncover and narrow your triggers so you can work out the best way to manage your individual condition.
Each migraine attack offers vital clues
Each attack offers you valuable clues, like a crime scene. Look for the clues. The more you practice this, the more you know what to look for. The difference between a rookie on the force and an experienced detective is the same for migraines. With practice and experience you discover more and get better.
A sudden migraine attack with friends at lunch becomes a crime scene you investigate. What caused it? Was it the food at lunch, the bright sunlight, the caffeine in your latte or the chocolate dessert?
But there’s more – could it have been the lack of sleep the night before or a combination?
The only way you can really know for sure is by monitoring each of your suspected triggers on a daily basis.
In a few weeks your patterns emerge. You will start to notice that certain triggers keep popping up. These triggers are your suspects. Monitor them closely.
If these suspects recur at times when you get migraines or feel at risk of a migraine attack, then they are likely to be a migraine trigger.
Once you identify your key triggers, it is much easier to manage them
Like a detective, you need sufficient proof to identify the culprit. If you are monitoring your triggers, you will be able to accumulate the evidence you need to find out what is causing your migraines and, most importantly, how you can control them.
For example, if poor sleep is key trigger:
- Go to bed early,
- Avoid eating or exercising 2 hours before going to bed.
- Keep a routine; sleep and wake at the same time each day.
- Avoid reading screens like phones, tablets or computers in bed or around bedtime.
If you make getting better sleep a priority, you will get fewer migraines.
Likewise with other key triggers. Eliminate them. Be ruthless.
That is what this it's about. Manage your triggers to prevent the migraines in the first place.
We may not be able to control our ‘over-reactive’ migraine brains – but we can control our migraine triggers.
What about triggers I can’t control, like the weather?
Many attacks occur once a ‘migraine threshold’ is reached. Like heating water, once it gets hot enough, it will boil. Similarly with your migraines, the higher the strength and number of triggers you experience simultaneously the more likely you are to have a migraine.
This is often referred to as the ‘migraine threshold’.
When you experience frequent migraines your threshold is low. You feel fragile, vulnerable and sensitive to the slightest stimuli.
I’ve experienced this first hand. I’ve had migraines from a computer screen, weather change or even just by running late to an appointment.
At the time, it appeared as though these were single, uncontrollable triggers and I believed that the situation was hopeless.
I believed that for 14 years.
I was wrong.
After becoming a Migraine Detective, I soon realised I had been making things worse for myself.
In hindsight, I realised I had missed many of the now obvious migraine triggers which were affecting my condition daily. Diet, sleep, lack of exercise and stress levels were big factors in many of my attacks.
Once I knew this, with the evidence of my personal data behind it. I began to better manage them.
Slowly but steadily, my attacks became less frequent, my threshold started to increase and a virtuous cycle of recovery began.
You will never be able to control things like the weather but you may find when you’re managing your other triggers well, you won’t need to.
I still sense a storm before it arrives – but I don’t panic like I used to. They can come and go and as long as I’m in control of my other triggers. I’m fine.
What gets measured, gets managed
It’s important to monitor all your suspected triggers daily. If in doubt, include the extra trigger – better to begin with too many than too little.
Then you can begin to rule out suspects as you gather evidence over the coming weeks.
What you may find as you begin monitoring these new aspects about yourself is you gradually becoming more self-aware.
As triggers occur you will begin to understand more precisely what impact they are having on you and how you can react to minimise your migraine risk.
Daily entries are required to provide meaningful insights into personally tailored migraine report. It only takes a minute out of your day, but will save you countless hours of agony if a migraine strikes.
Discipline is required. Seek support from those close to you to help on the journey.
Make it a habit. Make entries at the same time every day. Set a regular alarm it if it helps. A good way to start a new habit, is to anchor it to an existing habit i.e. after dinner or right after you put on your PJs.
If you forget, then as soon as you remember, fill in the details for the day you missed before you forget.
Migraines are a debilitating disorder that can interrupt life’s most precious moments. It can affect your job, career, family, relationships and the quality of your life.
You just might be surprised how a different mindset and a minute each day can make a world of difference.