Migraines With Aura: How I Keep Them From Overtaking My Life

On Saturday, I had the first “long run” of my New York City Marathon training. I’m taking the next 14 weeks to slowly build a solid base before jumping into more intense marathon mileage in July.

I had a whopping 4 miles on my schedule.

This run should have been easy; a nice confidence boost to kick off 8 months of hard work.

Instead, about 1.5 miles into my run, my vision started to blur. Oh, no, I thought. Please, not now, I begged hopelessly. Then, zigzagging, wavy splotches appeared in my line of sight, resembling what happens when you stare at the sun too long.

Slowly, I developed a scotoma, a black hole of partial vision loss that strikes before I get a full-blown migraine. My run turned into a staggering walk as I tried to make my way back home to my prescription medication without falling into the Hillsborough River or crashing into unsuspecting pedestrians.

I’ve suffered from chronic migraines with aura, sometimes called ocular migraines, since I was 10-years-old. Over the years, I’ve been to countless specialists and have undergone every test imaginable. So far, no one has been able to pinpoint either a cause or a cure, which makes treatment and prevention particularly challenging.

When I tell most people about my migraines, they usually nod in understanding, “Oh, so you get really, really bad headaches?”

I wish the head pain was the only thing I had to deal with. Surprisingly, the hammer-to-the-skull feeling is the least of my problems. It’s the aura that wreaks the most havoc. 

ocular migraine aura

My attacks come on suddenly, with the aura serving as my only warning. Auras sound mystic and magical, but they’re terrible: vision loss, tingling and numbness in the extremities and mouth, slurred or distorted speech, and even the inability to comprehend language or situations are common characteristics.

These stroke-like symptoms leave me debilitated for hours, sometimes days.

I’d be lying if I said migraines haven’t severely affected my life. I’ve gotten them at the worst possible times:

  • at work,
  • during classes in grade school, high school, and college,
  • in the middle of Busch Gardens Theme Park,
  • after a race,
  • in the middle of a race,
  • during a Broadway show,
  • while traveling with my family,
  • I’ve even had to beg a cabbie to drive me home even though I didn’t have cash or credit card when one struck while I was out on a long run in Washington, D.C.

Usually, my migraines happen every couple of months. But, this time last year, I ended up with 3 severe attacks over 2 weeks. The last one came about as I was walking around Disney’s Hollywood Studios with my boyfriend and brother during Star Wars Weekend, an event I’d been looking forward to for weeks. I spent the majority of the day in the First Aid Center waiting for the aura to disappear.

Later, when we got into the car to head home, I started to cry out of frustration. In just 2 weeks, I’d missed 2 days of work and now a day at a theme park due to my migraines.

“Why can’t anyone figure out what’s wrong with me, or how to make these stupid migraines stop?” I bawled.

I hated how whiny I sounded.

There are worse things that could happen to a person.

I get that.

But, there’s something about migraines with aura that leave you completely helpless. It’s disconcerting when you feel you’ve lost control over your own body. 

After Saturday’s run and once I’d come out of my migraine coma, I found myself asking questions filled with self-doubt:

  • Should I still travel by myself? What happens if a migraine strikes while I’m wandering around a strange place?
  • Am I really going to be able to train for a marathon in the summer? Are exercise-induced migraines something I’m going to suffer from now since I’ve had so many come on while running?
  • Should I really buy those tickets to that show, that theme park, that event…? What happens if I have to leave halfway through because I get a migraine?

With how unexpectedly a migraine attack can take over the body, it would be easy to stop making plans out of fear. I know I’m not alone in this.

That’s why I’ve tried a ton of different things to help get rid of my migraines. My research led me to a few non-medication-based ways I could try to manage my migraines. Even though I’m still getting attacks, I’ve noticed a decrease in the frequency and duration.

migraines with aura manage

Before I proceed, let me preface this by saying migraine treatment is highly individualized, and I recommend you speak to a doctor you trust before trying any of these things. I AM NOT A DOCTOR.

That said, I wanted to share some of the steps I’ve been taking that I think have helped me:

  1. Magnesium Supplement – I take 200mg of magnesium every other day and have begun incorporating more magnesium into my diet. Magnesium can be hard on your stomach, but I’ve had a lot of luck and no side effects with Doctor’s Best 100% chelated brand.
  2. B-Complex Supplement – Every morning, I take a B-complex supplement that includes Riboflavin, Biotin, B-1, B-5, B-6, and B-12.
  3. CoQ10 Supplement – Each day, I take 200mg of CoQ10. I prefer the gummy version sold at CVS because it’s always Buy 1, Get 1 Free.
  4. Daily Vitamin – Again, I go for the gummies because I’m apparently 5-years-old.
  5. Monitor Hydration – For me, dehydration is a huge trigger for my migraines. I’ve meticulous with my water intake, making sure I’m not getting too much or too little. This is especially important when the temperatures spike.
  6. Incorporate Electrolytes Daily – At least once per day, I make sure to add electrolytes to the water I’m drinking. I do this with Nuun Active Hydration or Smart Water.
  7. Focus On Nutrition – It’s true; when I’m eating healthier I feel better. Even though I’ve never found a direct correlation between what I’m eating and my migraines, it can’t hurt to eat a lot of veggies and fruits while trying to avoid refined sugar. Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame and Sucralose are triggers for my migraines, so I’ve completely eliminated them from my diet. More and more food companies are sneaking artificial sweeteners into common health-focused products like protein powder, yogurt, and even bread. Make sure to read your ingredients, people! This also means that I need to eat something before I work out. The last few times I’ve gotten a migraine while running, including this past weekend, I was running on empty. Now, I’m going to try to eat something, even if it’s small.
  8. Maintain Regular Sleep Schedule – This pops up on a lot of “Migraine Prevention Lists.” While a sleepless night doesn’t always lead to one of my migraine outbreaks, I’ve been trying hard to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  9. Track The Weather – This might sound crazy, but I’ve noticed extreme changes in pressure have resulted in a migraine. Because of this, I try to keep a close eye on major weather patterns and schedule my plans around them since there’s a higher likelihood of getting a migraine.
  10. HAVE A PLAN – This is the most important tip I have. Even with all these steps, I still get migraines occasionally and randomly. Because of that, I always make sure I have a plan in place. For example, I now always run with my phone and a credit card in case I get stuck far away from home. When I’m traveling alone, I let everyone back home know where I am and make sure I have my hotel address saved in an easy-to-access place on my phone. All my friends and co-workers are aware of my condition so they understand when I have to leave in the middle of the workday or an activity. My mom and I have even discussed getting me a medical bracelet, which is something I think I’ll do before any big solo trips.

Do you have migraines? What treatment plans have worked for you?

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Meg Roberts
Meg Roberts is an avid runner, travel fiend, and content strategist based in Tampa, Florida. She enjoys exploring new places on foot, mile by mile. Follow along as she writes about making time to run, travel, and dabble with other hobbies, all while holding down a full-time office job that she loves.

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