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Top 10 Things To Stop Doing If You Suffer From Migraines

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Updated April 30, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Top 10 Things To Stop Doing If You Suffer From Migraines
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If you’ve ever suffered the throbbing, pounding pain of a migraine, then you’d probably do just about anything to get them to stop. To date, scientists have identified over 100 different migraine triggers. Fortunately, you don’t have to memorize all 100 because here are the top 10 things to avoid if you suffer from recurring migraines.

1. Stop Changing Your Sleep Habits
Getting too little sleep, or too much sleep, can trigger a migraine, so try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. Work on getting 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Try going to bed at the same time each night and practice relaxation techniques before bed. To help prevent insomnia, limit the amount of caffeine and exposure to light you get before bed.

2. Stop Stressing
Stress and anxiety can be a major trigger of migraines. They can also make an already painful migraine worse. Learn how to reduce stress through relaxation exercises, physical activity, or talking out your problems. Even if you’re someone who is always on the go, try to take time out to do something you truly enjoy.

3. Avoid Allergens
Migraines can be triggered by an allergic reaction. Some of the most common allergens that trigger migraines are pollen and alcohol. If you suffer from regular migraines, it may be a good idea to get an allergy test to determine if allergies are contributing.

4. Don’t Overuse Medication
Regular use of pain medication -- even over-the-counter products like acetaminophen and ibuprofen -- can cause migraines to increase in frequency and intensity. This is known as a "rebound headache." Eventually, the body builds up a tolerance to pain medication, so that a headache occurs when medication is stopped. In other instances, the overuse of mediations that dilate the blood vessels, such as nitrates, can also cause a migraine.

5. Watch Out for Hormones
Hormones that contribute to a woman’s menstrual cycle can also trigger migraines. As a result, certain hormone therapies may result in more frequent migraines. If you are sensitive to hormones, discuss your birth control options with your doctor. A birth control pill that is low in hormones, or a non-hormone birth control option, may work better for you. In addition, using birth control pills that limit monthly hormone fluctuations can also be beneficial.

6. Avoid Scent Triggers
Scents can trigger migraines in some individuals who are sensitive to smell. Common scent triggers include flowers, perfume, cleaning products, pain, and dust. Inhaling cigarette smoke, whether you are smoking yourself or are exposed to second-hand smoke, can also cause a migraine.

7. Look Out for Food Additives
Food additives, such as MSG and nitrates, are a common migraine trigger. MSG is sometimes found in certain kinds of fast food, ramen noodles, and canned soups and vegetables. Nitrates are typically in processed or cured meats, like cold cuts, hot dogs, and bacon. Aspartame, a sugar substitute, may also trigger migraines in some individuals.

8. Watch Out for Lights
While sensitivity to light is a common migraine symptom, being exposed to a sudden, bright light can actually trigger a migraine. This can include bright sunlight or fluorescent lights. It’s also important to be mindful of glares, such as those on your computer screen, or reflected sunlight that can appear suddenly and cause a migraine. If you know that your migraines are triggered by bright light, it may be advisable to wear sunglasses when out in the sun or in a room with a bright light.

9. Avoid Tyramines
Tyramine is a common migraine trigger, and is often found in pickled foods, aged cheeses, and foods containing yeast. If you suffer from regular migraines, especially after eating, you might try to avoid certain meats with tyramines, like pepperoni, pickled herring, and sausage. It is also a good idea to watch out for certain cheeses that are rich in tyramines, like brie, cheddar, mozzarella, and Swiss cheese.

10. Don’t Skip Meals
Fasting or missing a meal can easily bring on a migraine. This is thought to be a result of low blood sugar, though the cause has not been confirmed. Eating regular meals that are rich in whole foods, like grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, can help to prevent a migraine attack. It's also important to keep your fluid levels up and avoid dehydration.

Sources:

Panconesi A, Bartolozzi ML, Guidi L. Alcohol and migraine: what should we tell patients? Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2011 Jun;15(3).177-84.

Savi L, Rainero I, Valfrè W, Gentile S, Lo Giudice R, Pinessi L.Food and headache attacks: A comparison of patients with migraine and tension-type headache. Panminerva Med. 2002 Mar;44(1).27-31.

Sjöstrand C, Savic I, Laudon-Meyer E, Hillert L, Lodin K, Waldenlind E. Migraine and olfactory stimuli. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2010 Jun;14(3).244-51.

Martin PR.Behavioral management of migraine headache triggers: learning to cope with triggers. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2010 Jun;14(3).221-7.

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