Nutrition

You may find that certain foods trigger your headaches or migraines. Pay attention to the types of foods that seem to trigger a headache. If, for example, you often get a headache when you eat chocolate, it’s likely that chocolate is a trigger for you. Other foods that are thought to set off a headache or migraine include aged cheeses, cured meats, and citrus fruits. Naturally, avoiding food triggers is an important step in prevention.

Nutrition and headache prevention may be about more than avoiding suspected triggers—a balanced eating plan may also help to prevent headaches. Aim to eat regular meals, as the low blood sugar levels that can result from missed meals can set off a headache. Meals should be balanced, providing protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals. Further keep blood sugar levels stable by avoiding excess sugar. As well, consume caffeine or alcohol in moderation amounts (if at all), as excess amounts of either substance may trigger a headache.

Medication

There are several different options for preventing and treating headaches and migraines with medication. Ask your doctor about options—both prescription and over-the-counter—that may be appropriate for you. Your doctor will consider factors including the nature of your symptoms, your overall health, any other medications you are taking, as well as the type of headaches you experience when choosing medication options.

Some people find that over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen (Tylenol®) help control headache pain. There are also FDA-approved over-the-counter medications formulated specifically to treat migraines; these include Excedrin® Migraine and Advil® Migraine.

Migraine headaches may also be treated with prescription medications; one of the most common such drugs is sumatripan, which targets migraine symptoms. Other prescription medications used to treat migraines include drugs to counteract blood vessel constriction (used for prevention) and others intended to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. Antidepressants and anticonvulsants may also be used.

For women whose migraine attacks appear to be related to their menstrual cycle (changing hormone levels), hormone therapy or birth control pills may offer some relief.

Living with Migraines

With a combination of lifestyle measures and medication to prevent migraines and treat their symptoms, it’s possible to control the frequency and severity of attacks. As well, some people affected by migraines find that alternative therapies like acupuncture, acupressure, and yoga help to control frequency of attacks and symptoms and contribute to an improved quality of life. Biofeedback is also used to help people manage migraine attacks; this self-help treatment involves the monitoring of breathing, pulse, heart rate, temperature, muscle tension, and brain activity—all involuntary physical responses to stimuli like stress (a potential migraine trigger). The goal is that by learning how to identify and control these responses, individuals can learn to control their body’s response to stress and thus prevent some migraines.

Resources

National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke

American Headache Society

National Headache Foundation

Sources

NINDS Headache Information Page. National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke Web site. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/headache.htm. Accessed July 2010.

NINDS Migraine Information Page. National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke Web site. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/migraine/migraine.htm. Accessed July 2010.

Tools for Sufferers. National Headache Foundation Web site. Available at: http://www.headaches.org/education/Tools_for_Sufferers. Accessed July 2010.

Trigger Avoidance Information. American Headache Society Web site. Available at: http://www.achenet.org/tools/TriggerAvoidanceInformation.asp. Accessed July 2010.