People who get migraines know they can be debilitating.
The pain, nausea, light and sound sensitivity and other symptoms keep you away from normal activities and curled up in bed for a few hours up to a few days, said Julie Smith, a child neurology registered nurse at Marshfield Clinic.
Some people get migraines a few times a year. Others experience them more than once a week. Learning to manage migraines takes time but you’ll be more productive if you can reduce their frequency.
Migraines may have warning signs
Your body may give you neurological signs a migraine is coming before a headache starts. These symptoms are called an aura and may include:
- Double vision
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Spots in your visual field
- Flashes of light
- Ringing ears
- Numb or tingling extremities
“Migraines can be easier to treat for people who have these symptoms because they can take medication right away and possibly prevent a headache,” Smith said.
Not everyone gets an aura along with a migraine. Some people have symptoms like irritability and fatigue that are harder to connect to the onset of a migraine.
Treatment and prevention is possible
A combination of self-care behaviors and medication can help prevent and treat migraines.
Daily self-care is important for people who get migraines. These lifestyle tips can reduce the frequency of migraines:
- Get enough sleep and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Aim for 30 minutes of exercise five days a week.
- Don’t skip meals. Blood sugar drops can trigger migraines.
- Avoid caffeine or limit to no more than one caffeinated drink per day.
- Drink at least eight glasses of water a day, or more if you consume caffeine.
- Reduce stress by learning relaxation techniques or practicing yoga.
Daily preventive medicine is recommended for people who have more than five migraine days per month for three months. Medications used to treat depression, epilepsy and high blood pressure often are prescribed to prevent migraines. Preventive medications are used in combination with acute treatment.
“The goal is to reduce migraine frequency by 50 percent,” Smith said. “Preventive medication doesn’t guarantee headaches will stop entirely.”
Triptans are the most common type of medication prescribed to stop an acute migraine. They can be given in pill, injectable or inhaled form depending on how quickly you need them to work.
“Learning to manage migraines takes time,” Smith said. “What works for one person may not work well for someone else. Some people can fight symptoms with over-the-counter medication, while others need prescription medication or sleep in a dark room.”
Track migraine symptoms
Tracking symptoms before and during migraines is the best way to learn about them.
Track as much information as you can, including:
- Location and type of pain
- Other symptoms such as vision problems or nausea
- When symptoms started and ended
- For women, if you have your period or expect it to start soon
- How you tried to treat the symptoms
You can log symptoms in a handwritten journal or a smartphone app like Migraine Buddy. Knowing more about your migraines can help you prevent a headache and help your health care provider diagnose and treat you.