Migraines: Dealing Day-to-Day

Migraine headaches are a painful and frustrating condition. Because they can be hard to diagnose, it may have taken a long time to find out what was causing your symptoms. But there are many treatments available that might offer you relief. And there are steps you can take that can reduce the severity of or even avoid an attack.

  1. Get specialized medical help

    Your primary care doctor may not be up to date on the detection, treatment and prevention of migraines. Don't be afraid to ask your family doctor for a referral to a specialist. Family members and acquaintances may also be able to recommend someone.

    Doctors who may have expertise in treating headaches include neurologists (nerve specialists) and pain-management physicians. Ask around and see if there is any particular doctor in your community or a nearby city who is known for excellence in the treatment of migraines.

  2. Keep a migraine diary

    One of the annoying things about migraines is the lack of standard triggers or a set of factors that can spark an attack. But by keeping records, you may be able to reduce the frequency of headaches by identifying triggers that set off migraine episodes and then avoiding those triggers or providing the information to your doctor, who may be able to tailor your treatment accordingly. One useful method is keeping a migraine diary in which you record certain information after each headache occurs, including:

    • When your migraine occurred
    • How severe it was
    • Where your headache was located
    • How long the migraine lasted
    • Additional symptoms you experienced with your migraine
    • What you ate before the migraine occurred
    • Your sleep pattern and amount of sleep
    • Where you are in your menstrual cycles (to see if it is hormone-related)
    • Medications taken before and after your migraine
    • Events that took place before your migraine, such as a night of drinking, a hard day at work, a marital spat or other stressful occurrences
  3. Know and avoid your triggers

    There are a host of potential migraine triggers. Some, such as the hormonal changes caused by menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, cannot be avoided. But many others, such as cigarette smoke and caffeine, can. Though they may take some trial and error to identify with the elimination and reintroduction of suspect foods one at a time, food triggers (for example, chocolate, nuts or dairy products) are also generally avoidable. When medications are implicated, doctors are often able to find treatment alternatives.

    Knowing what can bring on migraines is a key step in preventing them. Even when you can't avoid a trigger, being aware of it can help you prepare for a migraine and reduce symptoms by taking medication, applying cool cloths to your head or relaxing in a darkened room.

  4. Find out which medications work for you

    There isn't a standard treatment protocol for migraines because they can affect individuals in many different ways. Some people are occasionally inconvenienced, whereas others frequently suffer great pain. But there are many medicines that can relieve symptoms.

    As with establishing your triggers, this process may involve some trial and error. Work with your doctor and be open about what does and doesn't serve you.

    It may be helpful before taking a new medication to establish certain procedures with your doctor, such as determining how long you should try the drug before deciding whether it helps and discussing which side effects should be reported immediately.

    Some migraine medications are designed to relieve pain quickly once an attack occurs. Your doctor will often advise you to take these medications at the first sign of a migraine to reduce the severity of the attack. Other medications are designed to relieve symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

    If these medications are not successful in treating your migraine symptoms, your doctor might recommend one of many medications that decrease the frequency of migraines when taken daily. However, these medications carry additional risks and are not for everyone.

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