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Jan.-Feb. 2012, Vol. XXVII, No. 1
 
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Managing Your Health
Looking for relief from migraines? Try these strategies

There's no specific cure for migraine headaches. But learning what you can do to reduce their frequency and severity can help provide relief from migraine symptoms, which can include throbbing pain, nausea, vomiting, and blurred vision.

Medication can play a role in migraine prevention and treatment. The American Headache Society says migraine sufferers who combine drug and nondrug treatments are likely to see the most significant improvement. So consider these strategies:

Keep a diary

One of the best ways to identify migraine triggers is to keep a headache diary. Note the following in a journal, computer, or smartphone:

  • When migraines occur
  • If they're mild, moderate or severe
  • What you ate or drank before the headache
  • How much sleep you had the night before
  • Specific symptoms
  • Possible hormonal factors
  • Exposure to other possible triggers, such as bright lights, physical or emotional stress, odors, tobacco smoke, hunger, or loud noise

Analyze your diary for patterns. For example, are you more likely to get a migraine on days when you get less sleep?

Pinpoint food triggers

Migraine attacks often take place in response to foods. Common culprits include foods that are processed, fermented, pickled, or marinated, as well as red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, salami, cured meats, nuts, and chocolate.

You should suspect that a certain food triggers your migraines if you experience a headache within 12 to 24 hours after eating it.

Practice relaxation

Learning and practicing ways to relax can reduce the number and severity of headaches. Deep-relaxation techniques work by changing your body's response to stress hormones. They also slow your heart rate and the expansion and contraction of blood vessels.

Deep breathing (or "belly breathing") and progressive muscle relaxation are two deep-relaxation techniques recommended for migraine sufferers. Learning them can teach you to spot signs of stress in your body and reduce them before they cause a headache. Using these relaxation tricks as soon as a migraine begins may reduce its severity and duration.

Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity may worsen your odds of suffering headaches. One study shows the risk for migraines increased for men and women with body or belly obesity, compared to those who were not obese.

Eat a healthy diet

Besides avoiding foods you've identified as likely migraine triggers, eat a diet heavy on fresh foods and light on processed foods. This can help eliminate food additives, such as monosodium glutamate, that are linked to migraines.

Eating fresh foods in small portions five or six times a day may also help prevent headaches triggered by hunger.

Talk to your doctor

Migraines need to be managed with an effective treatment plan. It's important to provide feedback to your doctor on the effectiveness of medication and your self-care strategies.

Tension headache? Try these tips

Lots of things cause tension headaches, the most common type. Tight shoulder, neck, scalp, and jaw muscles can bring them on. Stress, depression, or anxiety may be causing those muscles to contract. Other causes include:

  • Holding your head in one position too long (while using a computer, for example)
  • Sleeping with your neck in an odd position
  • Changing caffeine consumption
  • Eye strain
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Overexertion
  • Fatigue
  • Colds, flu, nasal congestion, or sinus infection

You can't prevent every tension headache. However, you probably can reduce their likelihood, frequency, intensity, and severity by making lifestyle changes and avoiding headache triggers.

Here are some ideas:

  • Get the same amount of sleep every night. Go to bed and wake up at the same time on weekdays and weekends.
  • Eat regular meals. Having three balanced meals a day and avoiding too much sugar can reduce the risk for low blood sugar, which can trigger headaches.
  • Get moderate, consistent exercise. Regular activity can reduce stress, but excessive or irregular exercise can trigger headaches.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to headaches.
  • Manage stress. Reduce stressors, practice relaxation exercises, and try other stress-management techniques.
  • Keep a diary of your triggers. Write down what you were doing or what you ate just before getting a headache. That can help identify and avoid headache triggers.

Self-treatment strategies

The effectiveness of treatments varies from person to person. Try:

  • Taking a hot or cold shower
  • Resting with your eyes closed and head supported
  • Getting a massage or applying heat to the back of the neck
  • Trying a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing or meditating
  • Ask your doctor about taking an over-the-counter painkiller such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen

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