If you suffer from migraine headaches, you’ve got plenty of company. More than 10% of the population is hurting right along with you, including 18% of women. Migraines are most common from the ages of 25 to 55. The good news: New research can help change your approach to managing your migraines. Here are five strategies to try.
Worry can cause a headache, but a recent study from Yeshiva University in New York found that the relief experienced after a stressful situation can also bring on the pain. The cause may be a drop in stress hormones including cortisol, according to study co-author Dawn Buse, director of behavioral medicine at Montefiore Headache Center in New York City. Calming yourself the right way can cut your risk. “If the stress has already passed, it’s wise to use all of the factors that may protect against migraine including sleep, proper nutrition, physical activity and exercise, and relaxation practices, which balance the nervous system,” Buse said in an interview. Those practices could include cognitive behavioral therapy, guided visual imagery or simply closing your eyes for 30 seconds to focus on your breath.
Speaking of relaxation, meditation may just be the ticket when it comes to minimizing a migraine’s effect, according to researchers at Wake Forest Baptist University in Winston-Salem, S.C. “Those in our study who took a two-hour instructive class in mindful meditation for eight weeks and meditated on their own five days a week for 35 to 40 minutes experienced migraines that were less severe and shorter,” said lead study author Dr. Rebecca Erwin Wells. Chronic migraine sufferers also reported 1.4 fewer migraines per month on average.
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University of Michigan researchers analyzed 21,741 tweets about migraine, 65% by people experiencing a headache at that time, and found that expressing feelings about the pain may provide symptom relief. “Neuroimaging studies have suggested that emotional and cognitive areas in the brain can modulate, in part, activity related to the perception of physical pain,” said study author Alexandre DaSilva. “Social media may provide relief for migraineurs that goes beyond the emotional.”
Don’t obsess over red wine
Aged cheese. Chocolate. Wine. Caffeine. Most migraine sufferers are familiar with a long list of foods that may kick off a headache. “It’s key to remember, though, that migraines are caused in many people by compounding factors. If you experience a strong smell like perfume, flickering or flashing lights, less sleep and you eat a cold-cut sub with nitrates all in one day, yes, you may get a migraine, but if you ate that sub on a day when you didn’t experience those other triggers, you might be just fine,” said Dr. Fred Cutrer, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in an interview. If a migraine does strike, try eating bread or crackers to raise your blood sugar and potentially ease symptoms: “Personally, I find eating starchy food helps when I’m having a migraine,” Cutrer added.
Before your doctor sends you off for expensive imaging tests like a CT scan or refers you to a specialist, ask to talk about your migraines. A study by Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital researchers in Boston found that 12 million Americans annually are overtreated for headaches. Instead, study author John N. Mafi said, “Clinical guidelines for headache recommend that physicians counsel their patients on lifestyle modifications. Leading an overall healthy lifestyle with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as regular exercise can also help. Another important approach includes keeping a headache diary. Once patients can identify each of their own migraine triggers, they can take active steps to prevent them, thereby lessening the need for medications or visits to the doctor.”