Migraines have become almost an accessory attached to our modern-day lifestyle – and that’s not what we want!
While migraines may seem like an extreme form of headache, they are much more than that.
According to migraineresearchfoundation.org, “Migraines are an extremely debilitating collection of neurological symptoms that usually includes a severe recurring intense throbbing pain on one side of the head (although in 1/3 of migraine attacks, both sides are affected).
Migraine attacks typically last anywhere between 4 and 72 hours. Some of the conditions that patients experience before and/or during such attacks include:
- Extreme sensitivity to light, sound, touch and smell.
- Tingling or numbness in the parts of the face.”
Dealing with migraines can be tricky as not everyone experiences the same triggers. However, there are certain triggers that are commonly experienced by the majority of sufferers:
As per webmd.com, emotional stress is among the most common triggers of headaches and migraines. Typically, people who are emotional or easily affected by stressful events tend to be prone to migraine attacks. The brain naturally releases certain chemicals as a defensive measure to combat trying mental conditions during stressful events (fight or fight response). This process can cause changes in blood vessels and eventually result in migraine.
2. Hunger and Dehydration
Changing blood glucose levels can also cause migraine, which is why it may be a good idea to avoid skipping meals.
Additionally, dehydration can also bring on migraine:
According to a small study conducted with 50 migraine patients, it was discovered that fluid deprivation was one of the migraine triggers.
It is suggested to drink at least 8 glasses of water in a day, in addition to other drinks. Avoid fizzy drinks as they may contain the sweetener aspartame which has been linked to migraine attacks.
3. Extreme Smells, Sounds and Light
It is not uncommon to find migraine patients complaining about certain smells, bright lights and loud sounds triggering their headaches. Often external stimuli such as perfume, cigarette smoke, and the smell of food and paint thinners can trigger migraine attacks.
A lot of patients also blame bright, flickering, or pulsating lights, sunlight, and loud sounds for triggering headaches. However, it has been reported that exposure to bright light or sunlight is more likely to trigger a migraine attack if the patient is sleep-deprived, dehydrated, working under stress, missed a meal, or had a glass of wine the evening before.
Another of many reasons why it is important to get sufficient sleep!
4. Food and Alcohol Triggers
Certain food additives or flavour-enhancers can also cause migraine headaches. These include the artificial sweetener aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) – so watch out for food items that contain these ingredients.
Did you know that alcohol is one of the most common triggers of migraine? Beer, red wine, sherry, and vermouth contain large amounts of tyramine, one of the most powerful migraine triggers.
5. Medicine Overuse and Hormonal Factors
People who overuse common analgesics are at a heightened risk of progressing from occasional migraines to chronic migraine.
According to migrainetrust.org, “The overuse of acute migraine drugs can also stop preventative migraine medications from working and long-term use of acute drugs may be damaging to the liver and kidneys.”
Furthermore, women are more likely to suffer from migraines than men, thanks to the fluctuations in female hormones. Also, headaches in women, particularly migraines, are tied to shifts in the levels of the female hormone oestrogen during the menstrual cycle.
The use of oral contraceptives can make symptoms worse, but pregnancy may offer relief among few migraine patients. In contrast, pregnancy has also been linked to worsening symptoms for other patients. Post-menopause, however, may provide partial relief from the severity of migraine headache.
There are ways to prevent the onset of migraines by mitigating the triggers in the following ways:
1. Keep Away from Bright Lights and Loud Noises
As established, bright and flashing lights, loud noises, and pungent smells are some of the common triggers for migraines. While these factors may be omnipresent and difficult to avoid, you can take preventative measures such as avoiding driving at night, skipping crowded places, wearing sunglasses in bright sunlight and staying indoors during particularly hot days to reduce the possibility of suffering an attack.
Taking frequent breaks from looking at TV, mobile or computer screens and resting the eyes also works well. Adjusting the brightness levels on the screens also help relax the eyes and allow you to dodge a migraine attack.
2. Keep a Food Diary
Figure out which foods, additives and drinks are setting off migraine in you. Maintaining a migraine diary and documenting what you consume will help you track this. Once you know what is causing the headache, either avoid those elements altogether or limit their consumption, depending on the severity of your condition.
3. Watch Out for Hormonal and Environmental Changes
Hormones have a big part to play in triggering migraine attacks. If you tend to experience headaches before or during your menstrual cycle, you need to be careful about your diet and exercise routine at this time. Doing so will help ease the symptoms even before they commence. Women using oral contraceptives may find relief by switching to other forms of birth control. It is best to consult a doctor before making such changes.
Changes in the weather can bring on migraine attacks as well. A hot and humid climate and rainy weather can set off headaches. If you find that the weather is responsible for your migraine misery, you may want to avoid being in the outdoors during more intense weather conditions. Obviously it’s healthy to spend time in nature, so you may need to re-evaluate your routine to suit – e.g. go for a walk at dusk rather than during bright sunshine.
4. Eat, Sleep and Exercise Sufficiently
Whether or not you take medication to treat migraine, you need to ensure that you’re getting proper nutrition from the foods you consume. The deficiency of magnesium and certain other minerals has been linked to the onset of migraines, which is why it may help to take a daily supplement. Of course, it is always advisable to consult your doctor before doing so.
Another way to ensure that your body gets proper nutrition is by eating well and on time. Ensure that you eat something healthy within an hour of waking up, and every 3 to 4 hours thereafter. Most importantly, never skip meals. Also, drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated and help prevent migraines.
Get adequate sleep everyday to mitigate migraine headaches. Keep in mind that sleeping too much can cause headaches, so don’t try to make up for lost sleep by sleeping too long.
Be regular with your exercise regimen for a healthy lifestyle. Avoid intense physical activity, though, as that can trigger headaches.
5. Steer Clear of Stressful Situations
While stress is sometimes unavoidable, it starts to become a problem when situations get seemingly out of hand. Although we may feel helpless in such scenarios, we can certainly control our reaction to them, thereby preventing a migraine attack.
Relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation can work wonders in reducing stress. Other than that, you can pay attention to how your body reacts to certain physical activities. Try doing activities that help you reduce stress without straining your mind and body.
Migraines are hard to deal with but by learning to avoid your specific triggers and planning to tackle them in advance can go a long way in keeping them under control. You can use the above information to pinpoint what sets off an attack, nip the problem in the bud, and save yourself a lot of pain and suffering.
As a responsible dietitian Swati examines her patients’ health history carefully before recommending any diet or workout regimen, because every body has different requirements.
Swati has been helping people live healthy and active for the past 4 years, by recommending diet plans that fit individual preferences and health parameters.