Updated: Jan 16
Migraine Headaches impact a surprisingly large percentage of the population, with women being impacted about twice as often as men. While the exact cause of many migraines remains elusive, and indeed, may very from case to case, there are effective strategies to limit migraines. When I am working with migraine patients, I am looking for improvement in three areas; frequency, intensity and duration. To a large extent, the patients themselves can have a great impact on their progress by making some relatively simple lifestyle changes. Below I have the listed five non-pharmaceutical interactions that I have found to make the biggest difference for my patients:
1) Know and Avoid Your Triggers: Most migraine sufferers can identify a handful of things that they know will trigger a headache. If you suffer from migraines, but have not yet identified your triggers, it is well worth the time and effort to figure them out. One of the best ways to identify triggers is through journaling. By taking careful notes every day of what you eat and drink, how much you sleep, your stress levels, etc…along with the details of each migraine, you can start to identify your triggers. There are also many smartphone apps that can make tracking, and identifying triggers easy such as Migraine Coach and Migraine Buddy.
2) Be Consistent with Caffeine: Caffeine consumption is a tricky one for migraine sufferers as either too much, or too little can trigger a migraine. So what’s the answer? Drink the same amount every single day. If that is one cup of coffee, always drink one cup, and do so at the same time, every morning. If you are a two cup drinker, stick with two, again be consistent with your timing. Do not skip a cup, do not have an extra cup. I have had many patients that come in noting an increase in headaches, only to learn they recently cut back on their caffeine. If you do need to make changes, do so very very slowly (think months, not cold turkey).
3) Be Consistent with your Sleep: While there is plenty of debate about how much sleep is enough, what seems true for migraine patients is that getting the same amount every night is best. Like caffeine, too much or too little seems to be problematic. Pick a time to go to bed, and a time to wake up, and then stick with it night after night after night.
4) Get Acupuncture Regularly: I have worked with so many migraine patients, and have seen outstanding results with most of them. Acupuncture is generally not curative (although that can happen), but therapeutic, meaning you will need to continue treatments to keep getting results. How often depends on the patient, but for most of my patients once a week to once a month seems to be sufficient with most patients settling into an every other week routine after the first couple months of more frequent treatments. While I do not think acupuncture is curative, I have often found patients able to discontinue acupuncture once they found and removed major triggers (often stress) from their lives. Oh, and there is plenty of good research showing acupuncture to be effective for migraines. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/572382 http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/acupuncture-provides-true-pain-relief-in-study/
5) Recognize your Rhythm: For women in particular, migraines may follow your hormonal cycles. Migraines may happen more often while premenstrual, but may also happen just after your period, or even during ovulation. Taking careful note of when you are more prone to migraines, and being particularly diligent on the items above during those times, can be profoundly beneficial.
There is so much more that you can also do, but these five things are the ones that I find consistently make the biggest difference for the most people.