Have you ever had a feeling like your head was going to explode? A migraine will do that to you. It affects about 12% of people in the United States aged 12 and older. Women experience migraines about three times more (17%) than men (6%). Living with a migraine is not easy. For some people, the pain can make their lives a daily challenge.
Migraine episodes can be unpredictable, meaning they can occur at any time. There are a lot of specific triggers that cause these headaches, and they vary from person to person. Fortunately, these triggers can be avoided just as the pain can be relieved. There’s no cure for migraines, but taking care of yourself can help reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms.
This article will discuss some of the best ways to prevent migraines, including a few self-care practices for pain relief.
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What is a migraine?
Migraine is a neurological condition that causes severe, recurring headaches felt as throbbing pain or pulsating sensations, usually on one side of the head. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, disturbed vision, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.
A migraine episode typically occurs in stages and can last for hours or days. In some cases, migraine attacks can be so severe that they interfere with your daily activities. People with migraines can have different experiences as the triggers, symptoms, severity, and frequency may vary.
Research suggests that 1 out of every 6 Americans has experienced a migraine or severe headache within the last three months. While some individuals rarely have migraines, others can experience multiple episodes in one week.
Stages of Migraine Symptoms
Migraine can affect people of all ages, including children and teenagers. The symptoms tend to occur in stages, but not everyone with migraines goes through all of them. These stages or phases may include:
Prodrome, or “preheadache,” is the first stage, and it can last a few hours, sometimes days. About 60% of people with migraines notice the symptoms hours or days before a headache. Some people may not experience this stage, as it may not always happen. Symptoms may include:
- Increased sensitivities to light, sound, and smell
- Food cravings or a lack of appetite
- Mood changes
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Severe thirst
- Neck stiffness
- Frequent yawning
The aura phase involves physical or sensory symptoms that might occur before or during migraine episodes. The symptoms usually start gradually and can last as long as 60 minutes or as little as five. However, only 30% of patients experience migraine auras. Examples include:
- Visual phenomena, such as seeing black dots, various shapes, flashes of light, or things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
- Tunnel vision
- Vision loss
- Tingling or numbness on one side of your body
- Difficulty speaking
- Ringing in your ears
- Heavy feeling in your arms and legs
In the attack stage, you experience a headache, usually lasting about 4 to 72 hours. Intensity and frequency may vary from person to person. Some may have severe, debilitating headaches every few days, while others have them only once or twice a year. During this phase, you might experience the following:
- Throbbing and pulsating headache
- Sensitivity to light, noise, and odors
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pale skin color
- Neck pain
- Feeling tired
After the migraine attack, you may experience postdrome symptoms for another day or two. Patients report passing headaches on sudden head movements during this stage, also known as a “migraine hangover.” Symptoms include:
- Feeling depressed
- Lack of concentration
- Feeling euphoria
- Muscle pain or weakness
4 Tips to Prevent Migraine
Specific triggers, such as emotional stress, flashing lights, or a particular food, frequently bring on migraine attacks. Women may also experience migraine episodes due to hormonal changes brought on by using birth control pills or during their menstrual cycle. Avoiding these triggers or knowing the risk factors for migraine can help prevent an attack. Here are five tips to stop migraines before they start:
1. Eat wisely
Your eating habits can have a significant influence on your migraine. Some foods can reduce the frequency of migraines, while others can trigger them. Skipping meals can be even worse, as it is a common migraine precipitant. Fasting accounts for 39% to 66% of reported migraine triggers. Eating several small meals throughout the day is crucial to preventing hunger and keeping blood sugar levels stable.
Eating a healthy diet and on a regular schedule can help prevent migraine episodes. The American Migraine Foundation suggests that maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce the incidence of migraine. Obesity and overweight both increase the risk of migraine and the severity of its symptoms. Here are a few examples of foods to eat and avoid:
Foods to eat:
- Most cereals, except for those containing nuts and dried fruits
- Fresh beef, pork, chicken, fish, lamb, or turkey
- Homemade ranch dressings
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
Foods to avoid:
- Flavored crackers, such as cheese crackers
- Beef and chicken livers
- Bottled salad dressings
- Citrus fruits and onions
Foods that trigger migraines:
- Aged cheese
- Cured meats
2. Stay hydrated
Your overall health and well-being, including migraine prevention, depend on good hydration. A 2020 study suggests that dehydration may contribute to migraine frequency and severity. Drinking plenty of water is one of the most effective interventions for easing or avoiding headache pain. So make sure to drink at least 2 liters of water a day.
You could also carry a water bottle to sip on throughout the day and maintain a healthy hydration level. Sometimes staying hydrated is all it takes to keep migraines at bay.
RELATED: Good Hydration: Water as Therapy
3. Manage stress
Stress is known to cause or trigger a wide range of health issues, including migraines. The American Headache Society reports that about 4 out of 5 people with migraines identify stress as a trigger. Although daily stress is unavoidable, you can manage it to reduce migraine frequency. Keep your stress under control by:
- Manage your time wisely. Update your to-do list every day and delegate what you can.
- Take a break. When everything seems to overwhelm you, take some time out to relax and re-energize.
- Enjoy yourself. Engaging in enjoyable activities is a healthy way to reduce stress.
- Simplify your life. Set simple goals and avoid doing unnecessary stuff.
- Stay positive. Adjust your attitude and train yourself to focus on the good things.
4. Ensure Adequate Sleep
Sleep and migraines are bidirectionally related. Poor sleep is a known trigger to migraines. Migraineurs often have insomnia. Poor sleep leads to an increased sensitivity to stress factors. Here is an article on insomnia and sleep hygiene.
- Go to bed at the same time each day and for the same duration.
- If you have problems with insomnia, either with initiation of sleep or waking up during sleep, see your doctor and consider having a sleep study.
3 Self-Care Practices for Migraine Relief
Migraines are instructive for an individual who gets them. It is beneficial to stay aware of a potential risk of developing a migraine because of unattended self-care. Sometimes when things get stressful, we may forget to keep hydrated, eat sufficiently, and sleep well. If you do begin to develop a migraine, take a moment to explore the potential reasons.
We can’t always prevent migraines from occurring, but personal care can help minimize the pain. Here are three effective self-care practices for migraine relief:
1. Find a calm environment
Placing yourself in a calm environment can help eliminate specific migraine triggers, especially at the first sign of an attack. Identifying what triggers your headaches makes it easier to avoid them. For example, if light and sound worsen your symptoms, it’s best to turn off the lights and relax in a dark, quiet room. It also helps to limit screen time (mobile phone use) to avoid eye strain and headaches.
You may also try temperature therapy by applying hot or cold compresses to your head or neck. Hot packs and heating pads can relax tense muscles, preventing the dilation of blood vessels, which causes migraines to occur. On the other hand, the numbing properties of ice packs can ease the pain.
Moreover, a sip of coffee can provide effective pain relief, especially in the early stages. Caffeine may also strengthen the analgesic effects of acetaminophen and aspirin. However, be careful because too much caffeine could trigger withdrawal headache symptoms. The American Migraine Foundation recommends a daily caffeine intake cap of 200 mg for those who suffer from migraines.
2. Get sleep
Lack of sleep can often trigger migraines, but how can you sleep if your migraine keeps you up at night? This situation may keep you in a vicious cycle of restless nights and exhausting pain.
Maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule is one of the best things you can do for yourself. That means, besides sleeping for 7-9 hours, you should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day — even on weekends.
Here are some tips to get the quality sleep you need:
- Set the mood. To promote better sleep, find something that helps you relax, such as soaking in a warm bath, reading your favorite book, or listening to soothing music.
- Lessen distractions. Once you’re in bed, avoid watching tv or using your mobile phone. It also helps to dim the lights and close the blinds.
- Manage eating habits. While going to bed hungry can make sleeping difficult, you should avoid having a heavy meal 2-3 hours before bed. You can have light snacks, but only when necessary.
3. Keep moving
Physical activity can contribute to the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-killing hormones. It can also help relieve stress, promote better sleep, and fight anxiety and depression — two conditions that can worsen migraines.
Exercising or engaging in physical activity during a migraine episode may be difficult. However, once you’re through the worst of it, you can go ahead and take a walk or do stretching exercises. You don’t have to go to the gym or do intense workouts. Any physical activity, such as casual walking, light swimming, or cycling, will do as long as you keep moving.
Chronic headaches are also more likely to occur in people who are obese. Additional advantages for migraine management can come from maintaining a healthy weight through exercise and diet.
If you’re not into working out, you can simply have sex to keep those headaches under control. According to the Association of Migraine Disorders, not only does sexual activity distract you from the pain, but it also releases chemicals that counter the effects of migraines.
When should I see a doctor?
You should consult a healthcare professional when you experience:
- Persistent migraines that are not consistently better with the self-care strategies
- Worsening or unusual migraine symptoms
- Severe symptoms
- A headache lasting for more than three days
- Headache with seizures
- Visual disturbances
- A loss of sensation
- Difficulty speaking
These might be signs of a stroke or another condition that requires immediate attention.
Migraine Medication Options
Besides dietary changes, taking medications may be necessary for preventing migraines if they are frequent. Your doctor may suggest migraine-specific OTC medications, whose main ingredients contain aspirin, acetaminophen, caffeine, and ibuprofen. These drugs often work well enough to relieve pain.
If OTC meds don’t work and you’re still having more than four migraines a month, your doctor might prescribe stronger medications, such as:
- Topiramate (Topomax). It can help reduce the excessive nerve signaling that contributes to migraines.
- Onabotulinom toxin A (BOTOX) injections. Injecting small amounts around your face and scalp every three months can help reduce the occurrence and severity of migraines.
- Beta-blockers. The waves of electric currents that are thought to contribute to migraine aura can be reduced by relaxing your blood vessels and slowing your heart rate.
- CGRP inhibitors. This drug blocks the effects of CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide), a molecule involved in causing migraine pain.
In addition, some dietary supplements have proven effective in keeping migraines away, including riboflavin (vitamin B2), coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), magnesium, Petasites (butterbur), and feverfew.
Conclusion: Migraines as Instructive
A migraine is more than just a headache; it can be so severe that it makes working and performing daily tasks challenging. However, despite its debilitating nature, it is usually manageable. And even though you can’t always prevent the attacks, you can reduce the frequency or severity of episodes by identifying and avoiding triggers.
Consider a migraine as feedback and instruction to ensure that you are taking the measures that keep your body healthy. Keeping a diary can be an effective way to avoid migraine triggers. Try taking notes about any foods, behaviors, and other causes for having these headaches. Make the necessary dietary adjustments and limit your exposure to those triggers as much as possible.
Ultimately, the best approach to dealing with migraines is to make healthy lifestyle choices, including identifying and challenging negative thoughts and managing stress. If you feel anxious or depressed, ask your friends and loved ones for support or seek counseling. Sometimes having a migraine is out of your control, but you can always choose not to let it bring you down.
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