6 Basic Steps to Better Migraine Management

Woman in a dark room holding her head in pain
Arman Zhenikeyev - professional photographer from Kazakhstan / Getty Images

If you suffer from migraine headaches, then you are well-aware of what a potentially disabling problem it can be. If migraines cause you to miss days from work or interfere with other important aspects of your life (like, for example, having sex), then you are by no means alone. In fact, an estimated 36 million Americans are migraineurs, with women being the most commonly afflicted. The prevalence of migraines peaks between the ages of 25-55, which are the years that folks are generally the most productive with their careers and/or involved in raising families.

In the US, migraines are responsible for 113 million lost work days per year, and there is an emergency visit for a headache every 10 seconds.

Migraine headaches can be considered both a major health problem as well as a significant source of disability, which makes effective treatment and prevention an area of vital importance to millions. Here are some important steps to help you gain better control:

  • Avoid Triggers- Migraineurs can often have specific triggers that are a sure-fire way to bring on a bad headache. Different environmental factors can serve as migraine triggers, including certain foods, perfumes, and weather changes. For some, the sulfites in red wine and the tyramine in certain cheeses have been found to be triggers. Other foods to watch out for include chocolate, the preservative MSG, and packaged meats that contain nitrates. Start to become aware of potential triggers, create a list, and track your progress when you eliminate them.
  • Manage Stress- Stress can certainly bring on a migraine. While stress is an unavoidable part of life, learning some effective stress-management tools can have a big impact. Such techniques can include using relaxing breathing exercises, aerobic exercise, meditation, prayer, or a calming yoga practice.
  • Go to Bed on Time- The stress on the body of not getting enough sleep can trigger migraines. Shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep on a consistent basis to help ward off headaches. Teenagers typically need more sleep than adults.
  • Consider a Preventative Medication- If the frequency of your headaches continue to disrupt your ability to work and stay active, then talk to your doctor about trying a preventive medication. These are medications that need to been taken regularly with the hope of decreasing the rate of migraine headaches. Some common options to consider include blood pressure medications like beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, certain antidepressants, and in some cases anti-seizure medications like topiramate.
  • Have a Rescue Plan- Once you start to feel a migraine coming on, you want to have a plan of action to start to work on calming it down. For many, moving to a dark quiet room can help avoid irritating stimuli. Once a migraine occurs, medications are often part of the abortive strategy. Over the counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, aspirin or acetaminophen can all potentially help. The triptans have become a popular class of medications to treat problematic headaches. Sumatriptan (Imitrex) is an example of one of the first to come along, and some triptans come as nasal sprays or injectables for cases with problematic nausea. Triptans can have significant side effects, especially for patients with cardiac disease, and should be reviewed carefully with your doctor before trying them.

Migraine headaches are a complex and often debilitating disorder. Exploring your options with your doctor to fine tune your management strategy can make a big difference. 

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