Preventing Migraine Headaches

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In a perfect world, every migraine sufferer would possess a complete printout that explained how to prevent migraine headaches. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and no such list exists. The first line of defense for any migraine sufferer, however, is to speak with a physician.

Approximately 28 million Americans suffer from debilitating migraine headaches. Of that figure, two-thirds are women. While it is impossible to point to one specific problem as the cause for all migraines, migraines that occur during or near a woman’s menstrual cycle are most likely due to hormonal changes. It is no surprise that the majority of female migraine sufferers report migraine headaches between the ages of 10 and 45. There also appears to be a marked decrease in female migraines after the age of 50.

Since migraines occur at any time of the month, and since men suffer from migraine headaches as well, these headaches can be boiled down to changes in the environment and changes in the body.

Common triggers that may set off a migraine include:

  • Hormonal changes in women

  • Medications

  • Certain smells (Industrial odors, perfume, hairspray, other strong odors)

  • Red wine

  • Aged cheese

  • Processed foods

  • MSG (and other preservatives)

  • Weather (bright sunlight, glare, rain or changes in air pressure, extreme hot, extreme cold)

  • Hunger

  • Stress

  • Sleep-too much or too little

One of the best ways to prevent migraine headaches is to avoid common migraine triggers and make lifestyle changes. Since it is impossible to know the cause of all migraine headaches, it is virtually impossible to find a foolproof method of avoiding migraines.

Suggestions on Preventing Migraine Headaches:

  • Keep a food journal and document each headache. Pay close attention to foods and environmental changes that might have taken place just before a headache occurs. This knowledge will help you avoid triggers in the future.

  • Get help. Some people need daily medication to avoid migraines. Speak to your physician.

  • Exercise regularly to reduce tension and stress.

  • Maintain a balance between work and relaxation.

  • Get adequate sleep, but not too much. The average adult requires about seven to nine hours of sleep in every 24 hour period.

  • Avoid triggers such as industrial smells, sugar overload, caffeine, smoking or smoke-filled areas, aged cheese and alcohol, especially red wine.

  • Be nutritiously conscious. Make sure you eat a balanced diet.

While some migraines have a sudden onset, many migraine sufferers notice their headaches are preceded by sensory warnings such as flashes of white or colored lights that zigzag across their vision, blind spots in their vision, a gradual graying of their vision, tingling in their arms or legs, dizziness, changes in body temperature (hot flashes, cold to the point of shivering and/or feeling clammy to the touch) and nausea. As the migraine grows in intensity and the pain worsens, many people experience extreme sensitivity to light and sound, and vomiting may occur.

Migraine frequency varies from person to person and a typical attack that goes untreated can last from one to 72 hours. Some people may experience one migraine and never have another. Other individuals may suffer repeat attacks. The common denominator: excruciating pain and throbbing that is restricted to one side of the head. Risk factors include a family history of migraines and being a female.

How to Relieve Your Migraine Pain

  • Take an over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory product or medication prescribed by your physician as soon as you feel a migraine forming. Do not give children under the age of 16 aspirin. If a child has a migraine, consult a physician immediately.

  • Remain in a dark room.

  • Apply an ice pack to the back of the head.

  • Keep sound and movement to a minimum.

  • Maintain body temperature (if cold, bundle yourself).

  • If a migraine headache becomes so intense that pain relievers do not work, consult a physician.

  • If a migraine changes or feels different than it has in the past, consult a physician. Migraine pain can mimic more serious conditions occurring in the body.

When it comes to preventing migraine headaches, whenever in doubt – even if you have a history of headaches – consult a physician.

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