Millions of Canadians suffer from migraines. If you’re one of them, you know that the pain caused by migraines can lead to sick days and lost productivity at school or work. Or, missing out on social and family functions, and sometimes, difficulties in your relationships.
When a migraine strikes, it can be near impossible to fulfill your day-to-day responsibilities. In addition to head pain, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound can leave you completely disabled.
Finding ways to prevent or to better treat your migraines will help improve your productivity and overall quality of life.
Can Migraines Be Prevented?
Some migraine sufferers find that they can reduce the frequency of their migraines by avoiding their specific triggers. Triggers are factors that can set off a migraine in certain people.
While some triggers are easier to avoid than others, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to completely prevent migraines simply by avoiding your triggers. Therefore, you may find it helpful to plan ahead in order to keep migraines under control when they do strike.
The following tips may help you to reduce the frequency or severity of your migraines:
- Avoid bright, flashing lights or loud noises. Sensory stimuli are common migraine triggers. Going to a movie theatre, driving at night in the glare of oncoming cars, rock concerts, too much screen time, glare from the sun, and clubs or crowded venues are some examples of triggers that can be avoided.
- Pay attention to your diet. Certain foods, such as aged cheese, wine, and processed foods, can contribute to headaches. Fasting or skipping meals can also trigger migraine headaches. Make sure you eat every three to four hours.
- Follow a regular schedule. Fatigue and exhaustion can trigger migraines. Take care to get at least seven hours of sleep per night—but don’t oversleep. Try to exercise regularly without overdoing it. Light- to moderate-intensity activities, such as yoga or walking, can help while strenuous exercising like weight lifting can provoke migraines.
- If you’re a woman, keep track of hormonal changes. Many women find they experience more migraines prior to or during menstrual periods. Taking care to eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep during this period can help.
- Minimize stress. Stress can’t always be controlled, but you can learn to control your reaction to stressful situations. Use relaxation techniques such as meditation or biofeedback to reduce your stress levels.
If you’ve been diagnosed with migraine headaches, your doctor can help you to find the appropriate treatment. Certain medications may be able to both treat symptoms and reduce the frequency of attacks. There are two broad categories of migraine medication. They include:
- Acute pain-relieving medication. These types of drugs are taken during an attack and target symptoms, including head pain. They may include common over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetylsalicylic acid or ASA (Aspirin®), ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin®, Advil®) acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®), and naproxen (Aleve®). Prescription medications include triptans, ergots, anti-nausea medication, opioids, and glucocorticoids. Your doctor can help you to find the right combination of medication to treat your symptoms.
- Preventative medication. Preventative medication is taken regularly, often on a daily basis. It is used to reduce the intensity or frequency of migraine headaches.You might be considered for preventative therapy if you suffer from particularly severe or long migraines and acute medication doesn’t seem to help.These drugs won’t necessarily stop your headaches, and many also cause severe side effects.They can include beta blockers, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, botox, and prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Your doctor will take a number of factors into consideration when coming up with your treatment plan. Be sure to fully inform your doctor about the frequency and severity of your headaches, the degree of disability they cause, medications that you are taking and any other health conditions you may be affected by.
When Migraine Pain Strikes
Migraine pain can be debilitating. Medication is a proven way to both treat this pain and prevent it. But sometimes there’s little you can do to guarantee you won’t get a migraine. It can help to have a plan to manage migraine pain.
Don’t ignore signs of an oncoming migraine. If possible, retreat from whatever you’re doing.
- Find a quiet room and turn off the lights. A migraine can increase your sensitivity to sound and light. You should try to relax, and if possible, sleep, in a dark, quiet room.
- Temperature therapy may help. Applying a hot or cold compress to your neck or head may provide some relief. Heating pads and hot packs can help reduce muscle tension, as can taking a hot shower or bath. Ice packs can help to numb pain.
- Drink something with caffeine. Some people find that a small amount of caffeine can help to relieve early stage migraine pain. It may also help to increase the pain-relieving effects of over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ASA (Aspirin®). But don’t overdo it—too much caffeine may cause a withdrawal headache later on.
- Stay hydrated. It’s important to keep drinking water to avoid dehydration, especially if you have been vomiting.
Do you know your symptoms, find out all the migraine symptoms here.
The information in this article should not be taken as professional medical advice. If you are having issues or have health-related concerns, you should see your personal physician.