- 1 in 4 American homes has at least 1 person with a migraine.
- 18% of American women, 6% of men, and 10% children experience migraine.
- 90% of sufferers inherited it from a family member.
Migraine has a special place in the headache lexicon simply for the hardship it puts the sufferer through. Attacks typically cause severe throbbing pain, usually in one side of the head, nausea, and sensitivity to light, sound, and touch. Sometimes, a migraine attack is preceded by visual and aural disturbances known as migraine aura. The frequency of a migraine attack varies from once a week to once a year.1
While over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin and paracetamol are advised in case of an attack to ease it, there is no definite cure for a migraine. In many cases, trying to sleep or lying in a dark place at the first sign of an attack helps alleviate the severity of the attack.2 Strange as it sounds, sex can relieve migraine headaches too.
- Skipped meals
- Certain foods
- Irregular caffeine intake
- Irregular sleep
- Hormonal changes across the menstrual cycle
- Air travel
- Changes in the weather.3
Prevention and management are the only ways to keep a migraine in check. So identifying the triggers is half the battle won, though it is a tricky business – at times, if a potential trigger does not induce an attack that crosses the tolerance level or “migraine threshold,” it may not be identified as a trigger.
But most patients identify the triggers with time. In fact, in a study at the City of London Migraine Clinic, 79% of patients knew their triggers.4
1. Keep A Migraine Diary
So have all this information about migraine triggers left you confused? Keep a diary to keep track of your migraine patterns and pin your triggers down. Your migraine diary should ideally have details such as the onset of pain, the frequency, the duration of an attack, the location of the pain, its nature, and the accompanying symptoms. These details will help you understand your migraine better and also to help your doctor make a firm diagnosis.
2. Reduce Your Stress Levels
The importance of reducing stress in alleviating a migraine cannot be undermined simply because studies show stress and mental tension as the most conspicuous precipitating factors of a migraine.5 Only about half of all migraineurs are found to show clinically positive responses to medications. So relaxation is important and anything like yoga and meditation that can reduce your stress levels should be included in your daily routine.
In a study conducted to understand the effect of an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction in individuals with migraines, the intervention was found to beneficial in reducing the headache duration, disability, self-efficacy, and mindfulness.6
Yoga also helps not just for the muscle relaxation it provides but for the integration of breathing into the system.7
3. Get 7–9 Hours Of Sleep Each Night
Sleep deprivation or sometimes even a change in sleep pattern can trigger a migraine attack.8
In a study conducted to specifically understand the effect of the change in sleep patterns on the severity and frequency of headaches, 1283 migraineurs and 1480 headache sufferers were studied. Almost 38% of those studied reported chronically shortened sleep patterns, sleeping an average of 6 hours per night.
- Chronic migraineurs reported shorter nightly sleep than those with an episodic migraine.
- Sleep disturbance triggered migraines in 50% of them.
- 71% reported headaches awakening them from sleep.
- 85% migraineurs chose to sleep in case of a headache.
- 75% were forced to sleep because of a headache.
- Short sleepers with average sleep hours of just 6 hours exhibited more severe headaches than individuals who slept longer.9
4. Avoid Foods That Trigger A Migraine
Chocolates, nuts, fermented foods – a host food triggers have been identified for a migraine. Though it is not necessary to completely eliminate them from the diet, it is important to have them in moderation. It is interesting to note that a food item may not always trigger an attack, but a combination of various triggers would. For example, while a glass of wine may not always precipitate migraine, skipping meals and having wine and cheese on an empty stomach could result in an attack.
Caffeine has a special place in a migraineur’s diary as it can be both a treatment and a trigger for a migraine. At the peak of an attack, caffeine may help alleviate the pain but caffeine itself could start one. But if you cannot live without your daily dose of coffee, stick to that dose consistently.10
5. Eat Meals On A Regular Schedule
Once you’ve eliminated migraine triggers from your diet, it is important to stick to an eating schedule. Fasting or skipping meals is not a great idea if you are prone to migraine attacks because skipping meals has been proven to be a migraine trigger.11 Though several hypotheses exist, the real mechanism behind fasting-induced headaches is unclear.12
6. Maintain A Healthy Weight
There is research suggesting migraine and obesity could be directly linked with evidence showing higher migraine prevalence in the obese population. For this reason, behavioral weight loss intervention is considered useful in migraine management.13
7. Drink Plenty Of Water
Drinking plenty of fluids help to keep migraine at bay. In two different studies, 34 out of 95 migraineurs said dehydration provoked migraine attacks in them though this precipitant is not recognized by medical professionals. Patients with migraine across the world believe dehydration is a trigger. If you are not convinced, check back on your diary.14
8. Avoid Direct Light
Exposure to direct sunlight or any other light almost always triggers a migraine. Wear protective sunglasses when you step out on a hot, sunny day. Always wear prescription sunglasses while driving in the day and antiglare glasses in the night or while working on a computer.15
A new threat to migraine sufferers all over the world is the popularity of compact fluorescent lights or CFLs that are replacing traditional incandescent ones for their ability to use less energy. CFLs emit light in a different spectrum that may not be noticeable to the naked eye but it is a well-documented problem among migraineurs. The Health Protection Agency in the UK recommends CFLs of encapsulated variety that looks more like the traditional ones over the single envelop variety that looks like coils or prongs.
9. Avoid Alcohol Or Have It In Moderation
Experts differ on the effect of alcohol consumption on migraine. Studies show that though alcohol is a trigger, the risk is overstated and if it doesn’t trigger an attack, a small dose of alcohol – like a 5 oz glass of wine – can be had. Over-consumption of alcohol, however, can trigger an attack either immediately or as a delayed hangover headache. Though red wine is considered the worst culprit, studies show it is the alcohol content and not the type of drink that triggers the attack.16
10. Exercise To Reduce Frequency
While migraineurs often avoid taking up any exercise because of the tiredness that comes from frequent migraine attacks, it has been found that aerobic exercises can reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. Here, too, consistency is the key.17
11. Get Medical Help For Menstrual Migraine
Women migraineurs far surpass men in numbers all over the world. More than 50% of women with a migraine report an association between menstruation and migraine due to hormonal changes.18 If you have headaches that occur 2 days before menstruation and for the first 3 days during the flow, chances are that it is menstrual migraine. You would also notice these headaches to be stronger and that you are being more sensitive to light during this period.19 If the migraine is menstruation-related, the lifestyle tips mentioned above may not help manage it. Various hormonal and medical interventions are advised depending on the severity of the condition.
A migraine is a debilitating condition. What’s worse is there is no definite cure for it. But managing it is possible. Start with keeping a migraine diary.
|↑1||Headache Disorders. WHO.|
|↑3, ↑10, ↑17||Migraine Handout. UCLA.|
|↑4||Migraine Triggers. National Migraine Centre.|
|↑5, ↑8||Rasmussen, Birthe Krogh. “Migraine and tension-type headache in a general population: precipitating factors, female hormones, sleep pattern and relation to lifestyle.” Pain 53, no. 1 (1993): 65-72.|
|↑6||Wells, Rebecca Erwin, Rebecca Burch, Randall H. Paulsen, Peter M. Wayne, Timothy T. Houle, and Elizabeth Loder. “Meditation for migraines: a pilot randomized controlled trial.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 54, no. 9 (2014): 1484-1495.|
|↑7||Kim, Sang-Dol. “Effects of yoga exercises for headaches: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” Journal of physical therapy science 27, no. 7 (2015): 2377.|
|↑9||Kelman, Leslie, and Jeanetta C. Rains. “Headache and sleep: examination of sleep patterns and complaints in a large clinical sample of migraineurs.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 45, no. 7 (2005): 904-910.|
|↑11||Wöber, Christian, and Çiçek Wöber-Bingöl. “Triggers of migraine and tension-type headache.” Handbook of clinical neurology 97 (2010): 161-172.|
|↑12||Dalkara, Turgay, and Kıvılcım Kılıç. “How does fasting trigger migraine? A hypothesis.” Current pain and headache reports 17, no. 10 (2013): 1-7.|
|↑13||Bond, Dale S., Julie Roth, Justin M. Nash, and Rena R. Wing. “Migraine and obesity: epidemiology, possible mechanisms and the potential role of weight loss treatment.” Obesity Reviews 12, no. 5 (2011): e362-e371.|
|↑14||Blau, Joseph N. “Water deprivation: a new migraine precipitant.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 45, no. 6 (2005): 757-759.|
|↑15||Designing migraine-free lifestyle. Brain Institute – Oregon Health & Science University.|
|↑16||Alcohol and migraine. American Migraine Foundation.|
|↑18||MacGregor, E. Anne. “Menstrual migraine: therapeutic approaches.” Therapeutic advances in neurological disorders (2009).|
|↑19||Menstrual Migraine. American Headache Society.|