About 29.5 million Americans suffer from debilitating migraine headaches. And many more go undiagnosed. Women are affected three times more often than men. But with a bit of savvy, you and your doctor can devise a way to keep your condition under control.
Identify the troublemakers
Many scientists believe that a migraine attack is caused by abnormalities in certain brain cells. When these brain cells become active, surrounding blood vessels dilate and become inflamed, resulting in the throbbing pain usually associated with a migraine headache. Most sufferers have a family history of the disorder.
If you suffer from migraines, keep a diary to try to determine what triggers your headaches. Note the foods you eat, amount of sleep, exercise, menstrual cycle, and any stress factors. Record when you get your first headache and review your diary for the previous 24 hours. Do this for a few months.
Understand that some foods commonly trigger migraines, including alcohol, caffeine, aged cheeses, MSG, and nitrite, which is present in cured or processed meats like bacon, ham, and hot dogs.
Changing barometric pressure or other weather conditions also may trigger a headache.
Often, it is a combination of factors that triggers a migraine. Women who are more susceptible to headaches during certain phases of their menstrual cycles need to avoid certain foods or stress-related triggers at that time.
Talk with your doctor
Work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that helps you. Several prescription drugs can prevent or relieve the pain of migraines.
For less severe migraines, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and combination products can offer temporary pain relief. If you need OTC pain relievers more than once or twice a week, you may benefit from therapy to prevent migraines. Talk with your health care provider about your options.
Beware of any over-reliance on OTC medications, however, because this can lead to more frequent "rebound" headaches.