After your doctor diagnoses you with migraine, it may take a while to land on the treatment that's best for you. In the meantime, you can take steps to prevent migraine attacks and ease your symptoms.
Learning more about your condition can also help you take control of your health.
What to Do First
Make these changes to your daily life to lower your chances of a migraine headache:
Stop shorting yourself on sleep. You're more likely to have a migraine attack when you're short on sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of rest each night. Try to go to sleep and wake up around the same times every day.
If you take a nap during the day, keep it shorter than 30 minutes so you don't have trouble falling asleep that night.
Start controlling your stress. Stress is one of the most common triggers for migraine. Some people are used to constant stress and get migraine attacks on weekends, when they finally relax. Migraine pain itself can cause stress, creating an unhealthy cycle.
To get a handle on stress, make a daily or weekly schedule that includes time for yourself. Don’t pack too many activities into one day. Think about what you can leave out.
Block off time for visits with friends, hobbies, exercise, or whatever helps you relax. At least 15 minutes of time away from work and chores each day can lower tension.
Deep breathing exercises or meditation may also help ease your stress.
Stop going hungry. Too much time between meals makes your blood sugar drop. That may spark a migraine attack or make your symptoms worse. Don't skip meals, and try to eat around the same time each day.
Start exercising regularly. When you work out, your body releases "feel-good" chemicals that help ease anxiety and depression. Since anxiety and depression can make migraine headaches worse, activity helps prevent or lessen them. But don't overdo it. Very intense exercise can actually trigger migraine.
Learn Your Migraine Triggers
If you learn what sets off your migraine attacks, you'll better understand how to prevent them or keep them from getting worse. Everyone’s triggers are different. But there are a few things that affect most people with migraine:
Hormones. As many as 75% of women with migraine have menstrual migraine. That's when your period triggers a migraine headache. It happens because of changes in your estrogen and progesterone levels. Some birth control methods can prevent migraine attacks because they keep your hormone levels stable.
Certain foods. These vary from person to person. But in general, be careful with:
Caffeine and alcohol. For many people with migraine, caffeine or alcohol worsens symptoms. Others say caffeine helps them feel better when they have a migraine headache. Some headache medications even contain caffeine. Keep track of what helps and what hurts. And know your limits for both of these substances.
Medication overuse. If you take pain medication on more than 10 days in a month, it can actually trigger more migraine headaches. Doctors call this medication overuse headache or rebound headache. You can get it with over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers.
If this happens to you, stop the drug and wait until it’s out of your system to feel better. Ask your doctor about a safe way to come off a prescribed medication.
Light. All kinds of light can trigger a migraine -- bright sunlight, fluorescent light, any flickering light. Keep sunglasses with you, and wear them whenever you're outside. Inside, sit near a window, and stay away from glare and flickering lights.
Smell. Some people with migraines are intensely bothered by smells. Certain odors trigger nerve receptors in your nasal passages and cause a headache or make your symptoms worse. Strong perfumes, chemicals, gasoline, or food smells can bring this on.
Tell your friends and family if you have scent triggers so they can go easy on the perfume and cologne.
Weather. Heat, storms, and barometric pressure changes are common migraine triggers. If weather affects your pain, stay inside or adjust your schedule according to the forecast.
Start a Migraine Diary
The sooner you identify your personal triggers, the sooner you can get your migraine symptoms under control. A migraine diary is one of the best ways to do this.
Depending on how often you get migraine, you can write in the diary every day for a week, a month, or longer. Use a preprinted form, a smartphone app, or just take notes on your daily calendar.
Later on, you and your doctor can review the diary to see what's working and if you need to change your treatment plan.
To start, write down lifestyle information such as:
- Sleep schedule and how well you sleep
- When and how much you eat (note any missed meals)
- Whether you had caffeine or alcohol
- How much and what kind of exercise you do
- What the weather's like
- Your menstrual cycle, if you're a woman
- Social and work activities
It's most important to capture what you did in the 6-8 hours before a migraine attack.
After you get a migraine headache, take notes about:
- The time it began
- All your symptoms, including details about head pain (throbbing, one-sided, etc.)
- What you were doing when it started
- How long it lasted
- Anything that made your symptoms worse
- Whether anything helped you feel better