In January 2014 I had to undergo Open Heart Surgery to repair a ‘prolapsed mitral valve’. This is something that I probably had from birth, and I was told that if I didn’t have the repair I likely wouldn’t see my 40th birthday. Thankfully the operation went well and although a long recovery my heart was repaired successfully. At the time of the operation they also discovered that I had an intermittent irregular heart beat and they performed something called a ‘Cox Maze’ procedure, which is where they create incisions across the heart that then form scar tissue that disrupts the electrical signals of the heart and should then regulate the heart beat.
A strange and unexpected consequence of the operation (and the reason for this post) is that just 24 hours after the surgery I suffered a Migraine and then continued to get Migraines frequently. Prior to the surgery, I had roughly 1-2 Migraines per year. I suffer with ‘classic migraine’ so they will begin with the ‘aura’ this lasts around 20-60 minutes and for me starts with a patch of impaired vision that gradually moves across all of my eyes so there is a short period of time when I can see nothing at all. This is accompanied by pins and needles, sickness and then a head ache that literally feels like someone has put an axe in my head, it can be so painful I just cant move. This second part can last between 4 hours (very good) and 24 hours – they are always followed by a period of fatigue and lingering headache, often for days.
After the operation they levelled out from 1 per day, to every other day and then roughly 1 per week. This is classed as ‘Chronic Migraine’ and I was referred to the Headache Clinic and Neurologist. Firstly, neither the Cardiologists or the Neurologists would accept the link between the surgery and the increased Migraine and secondly, it became apparent very quickly that once they have ruled out that you don’t have any nasty neurology happening then the options are preventative medications that all have a huge list of side affects and are possibly not that successful. So before I went down the route of Beta Blockers, Anti-depressants and Steroids, I wanted to explore some ‘natural’ alternatives and this is what I have found after 18 months of trial and error, I really hope that this can help someone else, as Migraines have truly made my life a misery at many moments.
I know that this combination of supplements has made a difference to the frequency and severity of my Migraines as when I became pregnant in June I stopped taking them and within 6 weeks my Migraines had increased again and the severity had ramped back up. Pictured above is the Feverfew I have grown to create my own supplement. I can’t take the Feverfew at the moment as it is not safe in pregnancy but I know it did make a difference when I could and this is how to take it (from your own crop or buy a good grade supplement) and also what to take it in combination with. I am not however a trained Herbalist, so the below is based on my own research and what has worked for me, it is important to always remember to be safe with herbs as they are potent and you do need to tell your doctor if you take supplements.
Feverfew can be grown easily from seed and germinates in early spring, I started mine off in my little plastic greenhouse and then planted out late Spring, it is a perennial and will start flowering towards the end of the Summer, mine is still going strong now (late October) and has honestly been a joy to grow. It is a member of the daisy family and has been used since Greek times to treat inflammation and menstrual cramps. It was used to treat fevers (hence its name!) but is actually no use for this at all.
There have been studies into Feverfew as a Migraine preventative, there was an extensive study in 2005 and this found that it was effective in over 50% of the participants – this is good for a Migraine trial. It is believed that the active ingredients of ‘Parthenolide’ reduce inflammation and it also contains NSAIDS – like ibuprofen, which is why it shouldn’t be taken if breastfeeding or pregnant. For Feverfew to be effective you must take it every day for at least 3 weeks with food, and stop taking it immediately if you get an upset stomach – this is extremely rare but is possible. To make your own supplement;
- Use the leaves
- Fresh – pick one large leaf per day or three small leaves (around 3cm) per day
- You can eat them whole or brew a tea – add honey as they are bitter
- To dry (which is just as effective) pick the dry leaves and lay out in a single layer in a well ventilated area not in direct sunlight and turn every days.
- Store in a jar and try to keep whole so you can keep your dosage consistent (1 large leaf or 3 small leaves per day)
You can buy good supplements of Feverfew, do look for good quality. I have found it works the best when taken in a combination with the following supplements;
- Co-Enzyme Q10
- Vitamin B12
- Iron (try to take this as a natural source – I take Iron as I am frequently Anaemic and this contributes significantly to Migraine – this may not be right for everyone though)
I have also found that trying to reduce stress and to get enough sleep can help to reduce the number of Migraines – although this is not always possible and exercise helps. When I make the time to get outside for a half hour walk with my dogs in the park regularly I know it makes me feel healthier.
I would absolutely urge anyone who suffers frequent migraine to try the above supplements for three weeks, as I know they have reduced my Migraines to around 1 every 12 days, I have now had 2 periods of time where I went 30 days without a Migraine. Also the severity is greatly reduced, and this makes a huge difference.
One other thing that seems to help me, is that at the onset of a Migraine if I drink a large glass of water I am sure this keeps my digestion working (Migraines also slow your digestive tract!) and also caffeine helps with the severity. I never drink coffee but during a Migraine (I find the aura stage is best before the sickness and headache) I often crave coffee and weirdly this can also help.
I met with my Cardiologist 2 weeks ago and he has since seen another lady that has suffered a similar increase in Migraines following her operation. He did suggest that it may be down to a change in the blood density/quality having been put through the heart/lung machine. During the surgery your heart is stopped and this machine becomes your heart. I also wondered if possibly the change in the electromagnetic frequency of the heart (following the Maze procedure) may have contributed.
Hope the above can help someone else.