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Migraines are not curable, but they are treatable. If you can recognize the signs that a migraine is coming on, you can take steps to halt a debilitating headache in its tracks.
One in five migraine sufferers can "see" a headache coming on long before feeling it. A visual symptom called an aura causes migraineurs to see flashing lights, dots or zigzag lines, or lose their vision altogether. They appear anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour before the headache starts. Some don't experience visual auras but rather feel tingling in the arm or face or have difficulty speaking. Some may experience psychological symptoms like depression or anxiety.
For those that don't experience aura before a headache, identifying your triggers and modifying your lifestyle can help reduce the number of migraines you experience. Common triggers include anxiety, stress, lack of food or sleep, fatigue, exposure to light, certain foods and, in women, hormone changes brought on by the menstrual cycle. Once you suspect a migraine is coming on, doctors recommend you do the following:
Triptans are a class of drug that stops migraines from progressing. "If you have your medication, take it immediately," says Carolyn Bernstein, M.D., author of The Migraine Brain and founder of the Women's Headache Center at Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, MA. "People tend to save them because they think the next one's going to be worse." Dr. Bernstein urges not to wait, "Take it immediately."
If you can't medicate, caffeinate. Coffee or cola can help. "Caffeine is one of the oldest, best over-the-counter treatments for migraines," Dr. Bernstein says.