What Is a Migraine?
Migraines typically are strong, pounding headaches on one or
both sides of the head. They may be caused by the activation of nerve fibers in
the blood vessels of the brain. Migraines typically include several other
symptoms aside from the strong headache. These include sensitivity to light and
sound, visual aura, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.
According to the National
Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, roughly 12 percent of the
U. S. population gets migraines. Any person of any
age, class, sex, or ethnicity can get one.
Researchers believe that there
are certain events, or “triggers,” that can
lead to a migraine. These triggers are different for each person. There are several
different types of medications and alternative treatments available to treat migraines
after they have already started, but avoiding a migraine trigger is the best
way to prevent a migraine from happening in the first place.
Preventing Migraines by Avoiding Triggers
Prevention of a migraine is aimed at identifying and
avoiding a particular thing that triggers your migraines. You can learn to do this
by keeping a migraine diary for a few months.
You write down the following information in a migraine diary:
- what you ate and drank before the migraine,
including if you drank water or alcohol that day and how much
- the time the migraine started and when it ended
- what events happened before the migraine and
what you did that day
- how you were feeling around the time the migraine
- what medications you took and how much
- the proximity to the onset of menses (females)
It will be much easier to figure out whether or not your
migraine attacks are related to something you do, eat, drink, or experience if
you keep a migraine diary. For example, if you have a meal high in monosodium
glutamate (MSG) or salt prior to each migraine, you could avoid meals high in
MSG or salt.
According to the Institute for
Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, some of the most commonly reported
food and beverage triggers for migraines include:
- alcohol (particularly red wines)
- dairy products, like milk and yogurt
- artificial sweeteners like aspartame
- aged cheeses
- caffeine withdrawal
- flavor enhancers like monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- other food additives
Other events or situations that could trigger a migraine
- warm weather
- bright lights, including sunlight
- loud sounds
- change in weather patterns
- intense physical exertion
- lack of sleep
- smoking and tobacco
- strong odors, such as perfume, paint thinner, or
- birth control pills and hormone replacement
According to a 2008 Brazilian
study, fasting (not eating for long periods of time) was the most commonly
reported migraine trigger. Alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine were the most
common dietary substances associated with a migraine attack. Red wine was a
frequent trigger among women.
Avoiding these triggers can be the key to preventing your
migraines and improving your overall quality of life.
Preventing Migraines with Lifestyle Changes
In addition to avoiding triggers, lifestyle changes are also
important for preventing a migraine. You can do the following to help prevent a
- exercise regularly
- maintain a healthy weight
- reduce your stress levels
- use muscle relaxation techniques like meditation
- get an adequate amount of sleep each night
- sleep and eat meals on a regular schedule
- drink plenty of water
What Medications are Available for Treating Migraines?
Some people continue to suffer from frequent migraines even
after making serious attempts to identify or avoid triggers. You should talk to
your doctor about taking migraine or pain medications if this is the case.
Some medications are available over the counter. Others
require a prescription. The choice of medication depends on several factors.
These may include having a co-existing medical condition, the frequency of your
migraines, and side effects of the medications.
There are medications that are taken regularly in order to
prevent migraines. These include:
- anticonvulsants (anti-seizure drugs), such as
valproate sodium (Depacon), topiramate (Topamax), or gabapentin
- tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline
- antihistamines, such as cyproheptadine
- beta-blockers, such as propranolol (Inderal) and
timolol (Betimol), among others
- anti-inflammatory drugs, such as naproxen
- Botulinum toxin A (Botox) is a toxin secreted by
a bacterium that has been used for years to treat muscle contracting disorders
and is commonly known for its ability to treat wrinkles. Botox was approved in
the United States to prevent migraines in 2010. To treat migraines, Botox is
injected into muscles of the forehead and neck and usually only needs to be
repeated every three months.
There are also medications available to treat an attack that
has already started:
- Pain-relieving medications such as analgesics
and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These include ibuprofen
(Motrin) or drugs marketed specifically for migraines such as Excedrin Migraine.
- Triptans, including sumatriptan (Imitrex) and
- Ergots, including ergotamine and caffeine
combination drugs such as Cafergot.
- Anti-nausea medications, which are usually
combined with other medications.
What Alternative Therapies Are Available for Treating Migraines?
Nontraditional or alternative treatments may be helpful for
people who suffer from chronic migraines. They are aimed at relieving migraine
pain. Alternative therapies include the following:
- acupuncture: a therapist skilled in acupuncture
inserts thin needles into certain defined points in your skin
- biofeedback techniques: a relaxation technique
that helps you learn to control physical responses related to stress and muscle
tension and pain; once you learn the techniques, they can be practiced anywhere
- herbal products, including butterbur and
feverfew, have been shown (with mixed results) to prevent or reduce the
severity of migraines
- vitamins such as riboflavin (vitamin B2),
magnesium, and coenzyme Q10
Talk to your doctor before attempting to use an herbal or
vitamin supplement for your migraines. Don't use feverfew, riboflavin, or
butterbur if you're pregnant.
Many people who suffer from migraines learn from experience
what needs to be done to get through a migraine attack. They may lie down in a
dark room, take a nap, or apply cold packs to their forehead. Sometimes that’s
enough to treat their migraine.
For others, however, migraines are more difficult to control
or prevent and happen too often. Talk to your doctor about which treatment is
right for you if you’re experiencing frequent migraine attacks. Medications, in
combination with lifestyle changes and avoidance of migraine triggers, may be
the key to treating your migraines.