Migraine headaches are a debilitating chronic pain condition affecting over 10 percent of Americans, adults and children alike. Women and girls are three times as likely as men and boys to develop these headaches, which can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, vision, dizziness, vision changes, or sensitivity to light, touch, smell, or sound.
For many sufferers, migraine pain is so severe that it robs them of the ability to do little more than lie in a darkened room. Medications are available to both treat and prevent migraine headaches, but lifestyle changes are often an important part of the picture. Doctors recommend keeping a headache diary to discover migraine triggers, getting regular exercise, taking steps to manage stress, and sticking to a regular routine.
Follow Your Doctor’s Instructions
Prescription medications are available that can either prevent migraines or relieve their symptoms if taken early on in the progression of the headache. Many migraine sufferers take drugs like Topamax (topiramate) to prevent migraine headaches. Preventative treatments are especially useful when you know you’re about to face a migraine trigger. Triggers vary from one person to the next, but can include stressful events, menstruation, work, or vigorous exercise.
While a daily dose of topiramate may prevent many migraine headaches, many patients find that drugs can’t prevent all of their headaches. When a headache occurs in spite of preventative therapy, some patients take drugs like Zomig (zolmitriptan)to relieve migraine symptoms. These drugs work by constricting blood flow in the brain. If taken soon enough after migraine symptoms begin, they can significantly mitigate symptoms or prevent them altogether.
There are also several supplements that can help reduce the severity of migraine headaches, including:
Vitamins B2 and B12
Some supplements and medications can actually trigger migraine symptoms, and some herbal supplements like butterbur can even be toxic if used improperly. Consult your doctor before taking any medications, even over-the-counter ones, or supplements for your migraine symptoms.
Identify Your Migraine Triggers
Migraine triggers are the things that cause you to have migraines, and they’re different for everyone. Some common migraine triggers include:
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
A food or substance that triggers migraine headaches in one person might have no affect on another person’s migraine symptoms, and might even help relieve migraine symptoms in yet another person. Everyone’s triggers are different. Keep a headache diary to help you identify what foods and activities trigger your migraines.
Get Regular Exercise
While it’s true that exercise can trigger migraine symptoms in some people, that’s not true for all migraine sufferers, nor is it true for all forms of exercise. Vigorous, aerobic exercise like dancing, swimming or jogging might trigger your migraine symptoms, while a less vigorous, more callisthenic activity like yoga might not. While you should avoid any specific activities that trigger your migraine symptoms, doctors recommend getting at least 20 minutes of exercise at least three times a week to prevent migraine symptoms. Even a gentle exercise, like walking, has benefits.
Manage Your Stress
Physical and emotional stress can exacerbate migraine symptoms, just as they can regular headache symptoms. Progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and biofeedback are all good ways to manage emotional and physical stress. Make sure you get plenty of sleep at night. If you work at a desk, take regular breaks to get up and stretch. Concentrate on stretching your jaw, neck, and shoulders.
Stick to a Schedule
Maintaining a regular routine might sound boring, but it’s the best way to make sure you get plenty of rest and exercise as well as proper nutrition. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Sleep deprivation can bring on migraine headaches, but so can sleeping too much, so it’s important that you get the right amount of sleep each night.
Eat meals and snacks at the same time each day. Proper nutrition is important to preventing migraine symptoms, so eat a balanced diet rich in lean meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Many migraine sufferers say that just by taking better care of themselves, they’re able to stave off most migraine symptoms.
Migraines are a common and often crippling chronic pain disorder that can interfere with all aspects of a sufferer’s life. There are effective medications available to prevent and treat migraine headaches, but just as with most medical conditions, lifestyle changes also have a vital role to play in helping you manage your symptoms. If you suffer from migraines, don’t lose hope. With experience and advances in migraine treatment, many sufferers eventually find some form of lasting relief from their symptoms.