How to Prevent Migraines
I remember the first migraine I experienced. I was in university writing a French exam and suddenly the whole middle of my paper disappeared in front of my eyes. Within a few minutes I was hit with a wave of nausea and intense head pain that I had never experienced before. I do not remember leaving my exam and making it to my room, but the pain was so intense I could do nothing but lay there in the dark, not even able to sleep away the discomfort. This is why we have composed a guide on how to prevent migraines.
If you have experienced a similar situation you know that migraine headaches are no joke and while there is no precise cure for migraines, there are steps you can take to help prevent them. Recognizing your triggers, medication, and natural remedies are all useful tools to have in your migraine prevention tool kit.
Keep reading to discover the difference between migraines and headaches, different warning signs and symptoms, and how to prevent their onset.
Migraines and Headaches: What's The Difference?
In my previous article all about cluster headaches, I wrote about sinus headaches, tension headaches, and cluster headaches. While migraines are often categorized as a fourth type of headache, they can have different symptoms and signs.
Generally, with headaches you will experience pressure and pain throughout your forehead, temples, and the back of your neck. The most common type is a tension headache caused by stress, anxiety, or muscular pain. However, you can also get headaches caused by dehydration, sinus infections, or injury. Headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several days. Chronic headaches will occur 15 or more days out of a month-long period.
When it comes to differentiating migraines from headaches, one quality to note is that they typically impact one side of your head. Often, migraines can be more painful and debilitating than a regular headache (though cluster headaches can be worse). The pain you experience during a migraine may make it impossible to go about your day or to even fall asleep. While you may be able to go about your day with a headache, migraines often get worse when you climb stairs or do other activities.
Migraines may also have symptoms located throughout the body and not isolated to just your head. They also tend to impact women at a rate three times higher than men. Unfortunately, migraines can last anywhere from four hours to three days without treatment.
Migraine Warning Signs
You may have heard of a term called "prodrome" regarding migraines. This term refers to warning signs that folks may experience one to two days prior to the onset of a migraine. Not everyone who experiences a migraine is going to have these same warning signs and some folks may not experience any prodrome symptoms at all.
- Mood changes, most likely from depression to euphoria
- Food cravings
- Neck stiffness
- Increased urination
- Fluid retention
- Frequent yawning
There are typically two types of migraines, those with auras and those without. Auras refer to specific neurological symptoms that can occur before or during a migraine. These symptoms are reversible, and they tend to come on slowly over several minutes and can last up to an hour. While the most common auras are visual, there are a few others to look out for that may signal an upcoming migraine.
- Vision loss
- Seeing bright flashes, spots, or shapes
- Tingling or numbness in your face, arms, and/or legs
- Difficulty speaking
- Trouble concentrating or with alertness
- Weakness or numbness in one side of your face or your body
- Changes in taste, smell, or touch
Once your progress from the prodrome or aura phase and into a full-blown migraine, the symptoms are different from those experienced during a regular headache. Migraine symptoms can affect the entire body, so some signs to look for include:
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to sound
- A pulsating sensation in the head
- Pain on one side of the head, typically behind the eye or ear
- Temporary vision loss
Like many conditions in the body, the exact cause and triggers of migraines are not fully understood. Different people will also experience different triggers or may not have any single thing they can point to as preceding their attack. A few things that may trigger migraines in certain folks include:
- Hormonal changes, especially in women
- Beverages, such as coffee and alcohol. They may be triggered by caffeine in coffee or sulfites in wine.
- Changes in sleep patterns/habits
- Weather changes, such as shifts in barometric pressure
- Certain medications, such as birth control pills or vasodilators can worsen migraines
- Foods including aged cheeses, food allergens, food additives like MSG, and skipping meals
How To Prevent Migraines
While there are no guarantees when it comes to preventing migraines there are steps you can take to help stack the odds in your favor. A combination of medication and lifestyle changes may make a big change in the frequency and duration of your migraines.
1. Keep a Diary
Keep a "migraine diary." Track what is happening in your life leading up to migraines, potential triggers, how your symptoms appear, their severity, and what medications work/do not work. This data will give you a powerful tool to make changes to your lifestyle to prevent future migraines.
2. Watch What You Eat
Try eliminating potential trigger foods, such as those high in histamines, sulfites, and caffeine. Also, make sure you stay hydrated.
3. Lower Your Stress Levels
Take steps to manage your stress levels and practice relaxation techniques. This practice can include things such as:
- Guided relaxation exercises
- Stretching, specifically focusing around the neck and shoulders
4. Develop Regular Sleep and Exercise Routines
Develop a regular routine around your sleeping and eating cycles. Try incorporating exercise into your life to manage stress and reduce tension.
5. Talk to Your Doctor
Talk to your doctor about preventative medications. They will typically only recommend medications if your migraines are frequent, long-lasting, or severe since they may come with side-effects. These medications include:
- Blood pressure-lowering medications
- Anti-seizure drugs
- Botox injections
- CGRP monoclonal antibodies
As you can see, while there are no cures for migraines, there are small changes you can make to your daily life to help prevent their onset. Do you have any methods you use to prevent migraines?