13 Great Tips for Dealing With Migraine Pain
Migraines are electrochemical reactions in the brain that cause head pain and other symptoms, such as light and sound sensitivity, nausea and vomiting.
Migraines typically have a genetic basis, Weber says, but most migraineurs also have specific triggers that lead to symptoms. These triggers may include:
- Lack of sleep.
- Lack of food.
- Weather changes.
- Certain foods.
- Certain smells.
- Bright or flashing lights.
- Changes in routine.
- Use of recreational drugs.
With such a wide range of potential triggers, navigating daily life as someone with migraines can be challenging. But there are ways to make it better. And that starts by talking with your doctor to get to the bottom of your condition and help manage it in a way that fits your lifestyle and needs.
Tips for Dealing with Migraine Pain
- Identify triggers.
- Avoid triggers.
- Develop a plan.
- Exercise regularly.
- Stay hydrated.
- Keep caffeine intake consistent.
- Eat regular meals.
- Drop excess weight.
- Keep a consistent sleep routine.
- Avoid rebound headaches.
- Keep stress levels in check.
- React when migraines strike.
- Know when to seek additional care.
“We don’t know the exact cause of migraine headaches,” says Dr. Kiran Rajneesh, a neurologist also at the Wexner Medical Center. This lack of certainty about the underlying mechanisms can make treating migraines difficult.
But recently, a range of new and highly effective treatments has become available that have helped some patients find real relief. The good news, Rajneesh says, is that there are many more options these days than there were even just a few years ago, so work with your doctor to find what works best for you.
In addition to pharmacological interventions, you can also use the following lifestyle and migraine management tips to help you better cope with your condition.
1. Identify triggers.
Keep a log or journal of when your migraines occur, so you can identify which triggers seem to impact you the most. Triggers are highly individual, and identifying your specific triggers – like lack of sleep or stress – can help you work around them.
2. Avoid triggers.
Once you know which foods or environmental triggers tend to impact you most, try your best to avoid them. Weather changes are a common trigger but are harder to avoid.
3. Develop a plan.
Work with your doctor to develop a plan for coping with migraine attacks. Consider how you’ll handle unavoidable triggers and determine a plan for reacting when a migraine kicks off, such as reaching for a pain reliever or finding a cool, dark and quieter place to lie down. Having a plan in place can help you feel less stressed and might even help you lessen the severity of the attack.
4. Exercise regularly.
Get at least one hour of cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week. Exercising frequently helps many people manage their migraines, and it’s good for overall health and wellness.
5. Stay hydrated.
A major trigger of migraines is dehydration, so drink at least eight glasses of water per day and more if it’s hot out or you’ve been exercising.
6. Keep caffeine intake consistent.
Caffeine is a major trigger for some people with migraines, but can also help keep them at bay for others. Some over-the-counter migraine medications contain a mix of acetaminophen and caffeine to help stop migraines quickly. If you regularly consume caffeine, do so moderately and keep your intake consistent from one day to the next to avoid sudden shifts in caffeine intake that could bring on a migraine.
7. Eat regular meals.
It’s important to keep your food intake consistent from day to day, as skipping meals is a major trigger for many people with migraines. It’s important to commit to eating foods that are generally healthy and make your body feel good, consistently each day.
8. Drop excess weight.
If you’re overweight or obese, that could be contributing to the frequency or severity of migraines. Dropping some of that excess weight could help you better manage your condition and experience fewer or less severe headaches.
9. Keep a consistent sleep routine.
Try to get roughly the same amount of sleep each night, preferably 7 to 8 hours in adults, as this can help stave off migraines related to a lack of sleep or disruptions to a healthy sleep pattern. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake each morning at about the same time. Shut off screens an hour before bedtime and keep your bedroom dark and cool for better sleep.
10. Avoid rebound headaches.
Rebound headaches, also sometimes called medication overuse headaches, can occur when you’re using medications to treat migraines or another headache condition for a long time. To avoid these headaches, you need to be careful when using rescue medications, which can alleviate the acute symptoms of migraine when they start. Anti-nausea medications, muscle relaxants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can all be considered rescue meds. No matter whether these medications are prescriptions or available over-the-counter, too much of them can be a problem. You should keep use of these medications to no more than 10 days out of the month. The type or dose of other prescription medicines you may be taking to prevent migraines may also need to be adjusted if you’re relying too heavily on rescue medications.
11. Keep stress levels in check.
Stress and emotional disruption can be a major trigger for migraines in many people, and as such, you should seek to keep stress levels under control.
12. React when migraines strike.
As much as possible, when you feel a migraine coming on, practice self-care to cut it short. Seng recommends keeping your acute or rescue treatment with you at all times, so you can take it at the first sign of a migraine attack. If you’re able, go lie down in a dark room and use relaxation techniques to help distract yourself from the pain. It is also recommended to apply ice packs to the painful area and using stretching and heating pads to relax your muscles. Tension in the neck and upper back in particular can make migraine pain worse.
13. Know when to seek additional care.
There are certain “red flag” symptoms that should prompt you to seek emergency care. If you normally don’t get headaches and get a sudden onset, talk to your general practitioner or a neurologist, as there may be something underlying the development of a new headache condition. Any headache condition that seems to change suddenly or causes a loss of consciousness also needs to be investigated right away. If you lose vision or there’s a change in your ability to see, that’s also a red flag, as are fever or chills with headache. If you have migraine headache but have a change in quality or severity, check with your provider to discuss whether your management protocol needs to be adjusted.