Caring for yourself when you have a migraine
Approximately 35 million Americans experience migraine headaches. Classically, migraine headaches are unilateral and throbbing with moderate to severe pain. Migraines typically last 4 to 72 hours and are often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound and nausea. About 15% to 30% of people with migraines experience an aura, seeing bright lights, spots, or losing vision; sensing an unpleasant smell; or experiencing unusual sensations such as numbness or tingling. Modifiable and Non-modifiable Risk Factors There are several non-modifiable risk factors for migraine headache. For example, migraines run in families, so those with a positive family history are at increased risk. Certain weather patterns, particularly warm westerly winds and sudden changes in barometric pressure, trigger migraines in some sensitive people. Women are more prone to migraines than men.
Semi-modifiable factors include air pollution and menstrual periods. In women, menstrual periods commonly trigger migraine headaches. Women whose menstrual cycles are hormonally modified (eg, by using birth control pills) may experience either an increase or decrease in migraines depending on the type of product used. Many women find that their migraines improve after menopause. Exposure to second-hand environmental tobacco smoke is another common migraine trigger.
Many more migraine triggers are modifiable. These include:
1. Stress is one of the most common migraine triggers; physical stress (excessive heat, acute infection, etc.) and psychological stress (deadlines, public speaking, conflict) can both trigger migraines.
2. Lack of sleep or changes in sleep patterns -- fatigue triggers migraine in about 25% of sufferers
3. Missing meals or becoming dehydrated
4. Allergies. Some people with food allergies note that they have fewer migraines (as well as fewer rashes and stomach aches) when they avoid those foods
5. Certain foods:
Tyramine-containing foods (such as aged cheeses and smoked fish)
Nuts, red wine, peanut butter; fermented or pickled foods, chocolate
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose (found in diet sodas and other lowcalorie or diet foods)
Nitrate preservatives (found in hot dogs, bacon, salami, pepperoni, and other dried or preserved meats)
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer found in many processed as well as "Chinese" foods; and Caffeine (withdrawal)