You’ve probably wondered how to prevent migraines if you’ve ever dealt with an attack. Migraines can be debilitating, leaving a person with unrelenting pain for a few hours or even several days. Using reliable migraine treatment and management techniques at the first sign of symptoms is key for coping with the condition. However, migraine-prone people can also identify triggers and try to wind up with fewer migraines overall.
First, it’s helpful to understand what a migraine is. “We recognize migraine as a brain disease,” Cynthia E. Armand, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at Montefiore-Einstein and fellowship director and founder of the Holistic Migraine Lecture Series at the Montefiore Headache Center, tells SELF. During a migraine, overactive nerve cells in your brain send signals to your blood vessels that cause a cascade of hormones and other brain chemicals. This process causes swelling and pain, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “Once the nerve signaling gets going, it’s a difficult thing to stop,” Dr. Armand says. Migraines cause a span of symptoms including throbbing pain, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, and smell. Some also come with auras, or sensory disturbances, that can cause things like blind spots.
Experts aren’t totally sure why these migraine-inducing neurons fire in the first place, which makes preventing and treating migraines even trickier.
“Avoiding migraine attacks can be challenging,” Matthew Robbins, M.D., neurologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, tells SELF. “Some attacks can be clearly triggered by lifestyle factors, but attacks can also happen spontaneously with no trigger at all.” Luckily, he adds, “there are a lot of safe and effective preventive treatments available that can reduce how frequent and severe the attacks are.”
The key to staving off a migraine is to know when one is coming so that you can recruit your treatment of choice before it’s too late. “We now have a number of excellent treatments available to manage migraine attacks when they start,” Dr. Robbins says. “Generally, most migraine attacks do require some form of medication, and the earlier a migraine attack is treated the better chances are of the treatment working.”
Although migraines can manifest in different ways, the following advice may help you manage your migraines.
1. Keep a migraine diary.
One of the most common migraine triggers is emotional stress—which we’ve all had plenty of lately, thanks to things like the pandemic and political climate. But other things like caffeine, alcohol, certain foods, hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, weather changes, bright lights, skipped meals, or dehydration can trigger migraines. And that list is not complete. Triggers vary from person to person, so it’s important to learn what yours are and talk with your doctor about how to manage them, Dr. Armand says.
The best way to anticipate when a migraine might be coming on is to track your triggers and symptoms. “Tracking helps establish patterns and can put you more in tune with your body so you can know when to expect a rough patch,” Dr. Armand says. Obviously, it’s not a perfect science, but it’s an easy thing that can help you better avoid migraine pain.
You don’t need to do anything fancy—simply use an old notebook, or even keep it in a notes app on your smartphone. Here are a few things you’ll want to think about when journaling, according to the University of Michigan Medical School:
- Your food and beverages
- Time of your meals
- Exercise schedule and routine
- Weather conditions
- If you’ve experienced any stressful events or strong emotions
- Your migraine symptoms and when they occur
- Your menstrual cycle
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