Your Migraine Cheat Sheet
With more treatments than ever, you don't have to suffer through these debilitating headaches.
A migraine is more than head pain.
Beyond just a really bad headache, a migraine comes with a host of other symptoms. In addition to throbbing and pulsing (often on one side of the head), you might also have sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, even a runny nose and watery eyes. Research found that 80 percent of people diagnosed with sinusitis actually had migraines.
Migraine sufferers can also experience an "aura," in which you see wavy or jagged lines, dots, or flashing lights or have tunnel vision; this can start up to an hour before the pain kicks in.
Weather and food are two major triggers.
Blame it on the rain: Heat and humidity can cause brain chemical imbalances that bring on a migraine. Many foods are also suspects, including processed meats (like cold cuts), fermented or pickled foods, aged cheeses, chocolate, and alcohol, as they can inflame and dilate, or open up, blood vessels. Also, two-thirds of women who get migraines say they occur around their periods thanks to hormonal fluctuations, says Paul Schulz, M.D., professor in the department of neurology at the University of Texas Medical School.
The earlier you treat it, the better.
Taking an over-the-counter med like aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or a migraine-specific formula the minute you feel the migraine coming on can help stop it from becoming a full-blown attack, says Roger Cady, M.D., associate executive chairman of the National Headache Foundation and director of the Headache Care Center in Springfield, MO. Once the headache takes hold, you might need a more potent Rx pill. Triptans, which work by blocking pain pathways in the brain and prompting your blood vessels to constrict, are the most effective and commonly prescribed. When digestive symptoms (nausea, vomiting) hit, a triptan nose spray, inhaler, or injection might be necessary so your body can fully absorb the medication.
Taking too much medicine can backfire.
On the flip side, using pain relievers too often (more than two to three times a week) can actually cause a migraine; that's called a rebound headache. If you get three or more migraines per month, talk to your doctor about taking meds preventively. Doctors usually turn to meds that are FDA-approved for migraines, and are also used to treat seizures, high blood pressure, or depression. Botox is approved for those who have 15 or more migraines per month.
Alternative treatments can also work.
Two of the most promising: acupuncture, in which tiny needles are inserted at specific points of your body and can release feel-good endorphins; and biofeedback, where you're connected to sensors that indicate your body's stress levels (which can be a trigger) so you can relieve tension through deep breathing.