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Five Things to Avoid if You Get Migraines

Jan 21, 2011 09:12PM ● By Cate Reynolds

Did you know that almost 30 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches? It’s true, according to the National Headache Foundation. For those who live with migraines or suspect they may get them, there are things they can do to try to avoid some of the more common triggers that bring them on.

“Unfortunately, no exact explanation has been found for what causes or brings on a person’s migraine,” explains Dr. Gary Kaplan, founder of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Va. “But through the self-reporting of those who suffer from migraines, we have ideas of what triggers them, which can help many patients avoid or cut down on the incidence of these sometimes disabling headaches.”

Migraine headaches are characterized by a pain that pulses or throbs in one area of the head. While someone is having a migraine headache, they are also sensitive to sound and light, and may even become nauseated and vomit.

While there are no definitive solutions to ensure that your migraine headache is never again triggered, health care specialists have identified some common culprits that may cause concern. Try to avoid:

• Changing your sleep patterns. The more you sleep schedule remains unchanged, the better off you will be. Seven to nine hours per night is ideal.

• Stress and anxiety. Keep stress at bay and you’ll have a better chance of doing the same with migraine headaches. Meditation can help.

• Overuse of pain medication. The overuse of Tylenol, Advil and other pain relievers can actually worsen headache frequency and duration.

• Skipping meals and eating certain foods. Although the mechanism is not understood, many people report migraines as being triggered after they have skipped a meal. Also, there are foods that many cite as being migraine triggers, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates (found in processed meats), aspartame, tyramine (found in aged cheese and smoked fish), alcohol, and chocolate.

• Certain smells. Many people who suffer from migraines find that perfume, cleaning products, or cigarette smoke can trigger one.

“Even changes in illumination, such as bright sunlight or fluorescent lights, have been suspected of triggering a migraine,” adds Dr. Kaplan. “It is important for those who suffer from migraines to keep track of what appears to triggers their own pain. That’s the best way to try and avoid unwanted headache pain.” 

—Sarah Hagerty