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Dos and Don'ts When a Migraine Starts

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on November 03, 2020

Migraines aren't always inevitable. Sometimes you can head one off. Even when you do get a migraine, you may be able to keep it from getting worse.

The key is to always be prepared and to be aware of what's going on with your body.

Watch for Warning Signs

Some people have warning signs before a migraine.

Prodrome is one type of warning. This is a group of symptoms that happen anywhere from a few hours to 2 days before your migraine starts. Up to 60% of people who get migraines have prodrome. During this phase, you could:

You may also have auras, which cause changes to your vision and other senses. About 1 in 5 people with migraines get them. This stage happens just before or during your migraine. Aura symptoms include:

  • Vision loss
  • Seeing shapes, flashes, or bright spots
  • Hearing sounds or music
  • A “pins and needles” feeling in your arm or leg

What to Do

If you can tell you’re about to get a migraine, behavior changes may help keep it under control. Take these steps to prepare:

Take your medication. Don’t wait until your head is pounding. Take the recommended dose of your migraine medicine as soon as you have symptoms of prodrome, aura, or a migraine. Keep these drugs close by so you’ll be prepared.

You might take over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription migraine medications, or anti-nausea drugs to treat your migraines, depending on what your doctor recommends.

Take a break. If possible, take some time out to relax. Migraines make you more sensitive to sound and light. Sit or lie in a quiet, dark room. Even better, take a nap.

Have something with caffeine. For some people, drinking coffee, tea, or a cola can help stop headache pain. But don't overdo it. And avoid caffeine too close to bedtime. Lack of sleep or a change in your sleep schedule could make things worse.

Use a heating pad or ice pack. Icing your head or neck might keep the pain down. For some people, heat works better. Take a hot shower or apply a heating pad to your neck, shoulders, or head to ease tension.

Stay hydrated. When a migraine is on the way, it's more important than ever to drink enough water. Carry a water bottle with you to make sure that happens. Sometimes, drinking a glass of water is enough to halt a headache.

What Not to Do

Don’t overmedicate. Too much medication can be as bad as too little. If you take pain medicine for more than 10 days a month, you're at risk of medication overuse or “rebound” headaches. This can happen with over-the-counter or prescription headache medications.

Talk to your doctor if you need pain medicine more than 2 days a week.

Don't skip meals. Try to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner around the same time every day. Space your meals out so that you don’t go long periods without eating.

But stay away from foods and drinks that could trigger your migraines. Those may include aged cheeses, alcohol, processed meats, chocolate, or artificial sweeteners.

Don't stress out. It's ironic. But when you worry too much about getting a migraine, the stress could make you more likely to get one. Try a massage or stress-reduction techniques like deep breathing or meditation.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Migraine,” “Migraine with aura,” “Biofeedback,”  "Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain."

The Walton Centre (NHS): “Migraine: A Comprehensive Guide.”

Harvard Medical School: "Stopping the vicious cycle of rebound headache."

American Migraine Foundation: "Diet and Migraine," "Top 10 Migraine Triggers and How to Deal With Them."

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