How to Handle Unexpected Migraine Symptoms When They Strike

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Staying hydrated and applying ice packs to your head (one of Meyer’s go-to strategies) can provide some relief too. “Dehydration can either trigger the migraine [attack] or make it worse,” says Dr. Aymen. 

Vision problems and vertigo

During her migraine attacks, Meyer sometimes gets so dizzy that the room “spins” and she loses her balance. She’s found that the only solution is lying down horizontally until her vision stabilizes and she can comfortably move upright again.

According to Dr. Watson, Meyer’s approach is one the best things you can do for vision problems and vertigo during a migraine attack. Pushing through and carrying on with your life as you would normally can sometimes make the symptoms worse, he says.

If your schedule (and pain) allows, aim to lie down or nap for at least 30 minutes, if you can, as the attack is happening. “Sleeping can be very restorative for the brain and for the headache,” says Dr. Aymen. 

That said, naps (when taken too frequently or for too long) can sometimes throw off your sleep cycle, which can worsen migraine symptoms for many people with the condition, Dr. Watson says. If naps seem to disrupt your sleep—say, you have trouble waking up and going to bed around your usual hours—and a migraine attack shortly follows that lack of rest, skip napping entirely and simply lie down horizontally.

Again, migraine symptoms vary in intensity—and if your distorted vision, dizziness, or lightheadedness doesn’t pass with extra rest, it’s time to seek professional help. Some doctors might recommend vestibular rehabilitation, which is a type of physical therapy that uses gentle strengthening, stretching, and balancing exercises—coupled with eye-movement training—to combat dizziness, vertigo, and unsteadiness associated with migraine.2 

Gastrointestinal issues

During a migraine, the GI system can slow down in some folks (known as gastroparesis or gastric stasis), which can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.3 For many people who experience migraine, nausea is their most pronounced symptom, says Dr. Watson. 

The key to combating migraine-associated GI issues, says Dr. Watson, is to fuel your body. If you eat a big meal before or during an attack, the food may sit for an extended period in your stomach and not get digested properly. Conversely, if you don’t eat anything, there won’t be any food in your stomach to jumpstart your bowels back into action once the attack passes. Plus, if you’re taking any medications for migraine, having some food in your stomach will ensure they’re digested properly, says Dr. Watson. 

The type of food and beverages you consume also plays a role, adds Dr. Watson. Plain carbohydrates (think: cereals, crackers, or bread) tend to digest more easily than alcohol, citrus fruits, dairy, and chocolate.Ginger and bubbly, carbonated drinks (like seltzer water or soda) can settle an upset stomach too, Dr. Aymen says. 

When Meyer experiences migraine-related nausea, she opts for plain, carb-y foods (her exact order: a cheesesteak and a Coke)—it’s the only thing she can handle. (Again, it’s important to note that everyone’s body is different!)

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