Tips to Manage Your Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches can interrupt your life, but there are a number of things you can do to manage them so that they interfere less. A trip to the doctor can help you work out the right plan for a specific attack with medication and rest. But there are things you can do on a daily basis to help make your headaches happen less often and lessen their force.

Listen to Your Doctor

Once your doctor takes a full medical history and comes up with a treatment plan for your migraine attacks, it’s important to follow the plan as closely as you can. In general, your doctor -- often a special headache doctor called a neurologist -- will suggest you try to treat an attack at the earliest sign of symptoms. This often gives the best chance of success. In many cases, the medication and the dosage are carefully chosen to prevent the need for further doses, which for some medications can cause a “rebound” or “overuse” effect over the long term.

Sleep, Diet, and Exercise

These are three important parts of managing migraine headaches.

A regular schedule that allows you to get the sleep you need to function properly (about 8 hours) is essential to lessen the number of migraine attacks you get and ease their symptoms. Nurture a routine that agrees with your natural rhythms. Try to keep a regular, soothing bedtime routine, avoid screen time before bed, and, perhaps most importantly, wake up at the same time every day.

The effect of diet differs from person to person. Look for foods that may “trigger” a migraine attack. A migraine diary might help with this, and your doctor can help narrow down the probable culprits. A diary can also help you work out other things in your life that might trigger a migraine, so you can manage them. These also differ from person to person, but might include:

In addition, a healthy, balanced diet and regular mealtimes can help keep migraines at bay. Some people find that smaller, more frequent meals can be even better at managing symptoms.

Regular exercise, especially if it’s outside, can regulate your sleep and eating rhythms, and it seems to be another key part of managing migraine headaches. Shoot for 30 minutes on most days of the week.

It’s a good idea to try to maintain a healthy body weight, because obesity raises your risk for chronic daily headaches. A healthy diet, exercise, and sleep routine will help get you on the right track.

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Relaxation Techniques

Meditation, along with relaxation and breathing techniques, and even mental health therapies seem to help people with migraines. Some common approaches include:

Meditation: There are lots of approaches to meditation. All make you stop and observe. That means you stop the flow of thoughts in your mind and concentrate on a single thing, typically your breathing. Done on a regular basis, meditation, or “mindfulness practice” as some call it, can help your response to pain, including migraine.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): This is a psychotherapy approach that helps you change thought patterns and behaviors that can make you more tense and raise your risk for a migraine attack. Ask your doctor or mental health specialist about a professional who can help you with this approach.

Biofeedback: This technique uses electronic devices to measure breathing rate, heart rate, skin temperature, skin perspiration, muscle tension, and other physical responses. It then “feeds back” this information in the form of graphs or sounds from a computer that suggest you are getting more tense or less tense. Over time, you try to learn to control your body’s response so that you’re less tense. Some research suggests this could help with migraine.

Yoga: This ancient Hindu practice mixes careful breathing and calming meditation with body poses that stretch and strengthen your muscles and tendons.

Find Your Community

You can also reach out to organizations and support groups that may be able to help.

The National Headache Foundation works to improve headache treatment and serves as a resource for people who get headaches, doctors, other health professionals, and the public.

Check the foundation’s website for information, email it directly at [email protected], or call, toll-free, at 888-643-5552 for nonemergency guidance about migraine care.

Move Against Migraine is an online community run by the American Migraine Foundation for those with migraine headaches.

Miles for Migraine offers expert-led community groups to discuss migraine pain and treatment several times a week.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 19, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Headache Society: “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Migraine: Q&A.”

American Migraine Foundation: “Mindfulness Meditation for Migraine,” “Biofeedback and Relaxation Training for Headaches.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Headache Management: Relaxation and Other Alternative Approaches.”

George R. Nissan, DO, clinical research medical director, North Texas Institute of Neurology and Headache, Texas Headache Center. 

Robert Cowan, MD, headache specialist, Stanford University Medicine.

Mount Sinai Hospital. “Managing Your Migraines.”

American Family Physician. “Migraine Headaches: How to Deal with the Pain.”

Mayo Clinic. “Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain.”

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