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How to Manage and Prevent Migraines

Migraines are horrible and can be debilitating. They are often accompanied by vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. While there is no cure for migraines, there are ways to manage symptoms and reduce their frequency. This article provides tips on migraine management and prevention strategies.

Understanding Migraine Triggers

The first step in migraine management is identifying and avoiding potential triggers. Common migraine triggers include:

  • Stress - Both chronic and acute stress can frequently prompt debilitating migraine attacks for many sufferers. Managing stress through relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing can help prevent migraines. 
  • Hormonal changes - Fluctuations in oestrogen during the menstrual cycle can often trigger severe migraine episodes in many women. Being aware of this hormonal pattern can help you anticipate and effectively manage migraine attacks.
  • Weather changes - Sudden changes in the weather, especially drops in barometric pressure, are a very common and frequent migraine trigger for most people.
  • Sleep changes - Too much or too little sleep can disrupt the body's natural rhythms and frequently provoke migraines in sufferers. Aim for 7-9 hours of consistent sleep per night. 
  • Dehydration and hunger - Staying hydrated by drinking enough water and not skipping meals helps prevent low blood sugar, which can often set off painful and debilitating migraines.
  • Alcohol and caffeine - While alcohol is a known migraine trigger for many, caffeine withdrawal can also trigger frequent and excruciating migraine pain for some sufferers.

Research also indicates that issues in the upper cervical spine can contribute to migraines. The upper cervical spine includes the top vertebrae C1 and C2. Misalignments or restricted movement in these vertebrae can irritate nerves that travel to the head and face. This nerve irritation can spark the intense pain and other symptoms associated with migraines. 

Studies show that gentle manual therapies and exercises done by an upper cervical chiropractor such as Koeo Life that improve mobility and alignment of the upper cervical spine can help reduce migraine frequency and severity in some patients. 

Finding Effective Migraine Treatments

An effective migraine treatment plan can help stop symptoms or reduce their severity. Try these medication and non-medication treatments:

  • Over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol, aspirin, and ibuprofen can help mild migraines. Take at the first signs of a migraine.
  • Prescription triptans like sumatriptan rapidly alleviate migraine pain and other symptoms. See your GP for a prescription.
  • Anti-nausea medications like metoclopramide help ease nausea and vomiting during migraines.
  • Rest in a dark, quiet room at the onset of a migraine attack. Apply a cold compress to your head and avoid sensory stimuli. 
  • Relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help relieve migraine pain.
  • Keep a headache diary. Note symptoms, triggers, and treatments. Share this with your doctor to refine your treatment plan.

Preventing Migraine Attacks

While you cannot always prevent migraines completely, you can reduce their frequency through lifestyle measures and some medications. Try these migraine prevention tips:

  • Take medications like beta blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, or anti-epileptic drugs. These require prescriptions but can reduce migraine frequency.
  • Get adequate sleep, eat regular meals, stay hydrated, and limit alcohol and caffeine. Maintaining healthy habits minimises migraines.
  • Exercise regularly to reduce stress and improve sleep. However, avoid strenuous activity right before a migraine hits.
  • Consider cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to develop coping skills for stress and change negative thought patterns that contribute to migraines.
  • Try relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or tai chi to reduce stress and muscle tension, common migraine triggers. 
  • Consider acupuncture. Some research indicates acupuncture can reduce migraine frequency although more studies are needed.
  • Avoid identified headache triggers like certain foods, lack of sleep, or intense sensory stimuli. Keep a headache diary to determine your triggers.

When to See a Doctor

Consult your GP if:

  • You experience more than 2-3 severely debilitating migraine headaches that disrupt your daily life per month. 
  • The frequency, severity, or duration of your migraine symptoms change or substantially worsen over time.
  • Persistent migraines increasingly interfere with your ability to work, attend school, or maintain close personal relationships.
  • You need to take over-the-counter or prescription painkillers more than 2-3 times per week to cope with migraine pain.
  • You have concerning migraine aura symptoms like visual disturbances, numbness, slurred speech, or other neurological problems.
  • You begin experiencing migraines during pregnancy or migraines increase in frequency or intensity after giving birth.
  • You experience new onset migraines or an increase in migraines after age 50 which could signal something more serious.
  • The migraine treatments and medications you have tried are completely ineffective at relieving pain and other symptoms.

Doctors can help identify migraine triggers, adjust treatments, provide preventive medications, and rule out underlying conditions. Seek emergency care for migraines accompanied by fever, neck stiffness, confusion, seizures, weakness, or vision loss.

With a bit of trial and error, you can find an effective migraine management plan that reduces the impact of migraine attacks. Keep notes on triggers and treatments, follow prevention tips, and see your doctor if migraines remain uncontrolled. 

Consistent management can help mitigate migraine frequency and severity.

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