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How to get rid of migraines? Stop them before they start.

  • Migraines affect more than 37 million people in the U.S.
  • Chocolate, aged cheeses, wine and dark beers can trigger migraines.
  • Migraines can be a stroke risk factor. If you have a migraine with stroke-like symptoms including weakness on one side of the body, seek medical attention.

Migraines affect more than 37 million people in the U.S. With the stress and disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are feeling the pain. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to treat migraines—and prevent them in the first place. A virtual visit with your primary care provider is an ideal way to seek relief, offering medical expertise from the comfort, convenience and privacy of your home.

Before we go any further: If you’re experiencing a sudden, severe headache or if you have stroke-like symptoms such as weakness on one side of your body or slurred speech, seek medical treatment right away.

What is a migraine?

Migraines are frequent, painful and long-lasting headaches that usually have four distinct phases:

  • Prodrome. In the 24–48 hours before a migraine, you may notice mood changes, neck stiffness, increased thirst and constipation.
  • Aura. About 25% of people with migraines experience the aura phase, which can include seeing lights or spots, blurred or double vision, and even difficulty speaking.
  • Headache. This is a throbbing or pulsating headache, usually on one side of the head. During this phase, you may experience nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. 
  • Postdrome. After the headache itself goes away, you may feel exhausted or confused for a day or more. 

What causes migraines?

Migraines happen when blood vessels in the brain expand and become inflamed. Unfortunately, the exact causes of this are not clear. Migraines appear to be genetic—if someone in your family has migraines, you are three times more likely to have migraines, too. If you’re a woman, you are also three times more likely to have migraines. Around 18% of women experience migraines compared to just 6% of men.

Many things that can trigger migraines. Here are some common ones:

  • foods such as chocolate, aged cheeses, or some food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • beverages including wine, dark beers, caffeinated drinks like coffee or tea, or diet drinks with artificial sweeteners
  • stress
  • sleep changes, whether it’s too little sleep or too much
  • bright lights or glare from the sun
  • changes in the weather
  • strong smells such as tobacco smoke, perfume or chemicals
  • physical causes such as intense exercise
  • medications including hormonal treatments
  • hormonal changes for women such as menstrual periods, pregnancy or menopause

How long do migraines last?

Every person is different. Some people might get migraines several times a month, while others only a few times a year. For some people, a migraine might last a few hours. For others, it could be up to three days.

How to prevent migraines

The best way to manage migraines is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Here are some important ways to do it:

  • Keep track of what triggers your migraines so you can avoid those things in the future.
  • Get regular sleep, 7 – 9 hours each night.
  • Eat a consistent, healthy diet.
  • Get regular exercise, but avoid sudden and intense exertion.
  • Avoid stress as much as you can, and use stress-management techniques when you need to.
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation.
  • Follow your doctor-prescribed medication regimen.
  • Consider holistic treatments like acupuncture or biofeedback.

How to get rid of migraines

Once a migraine has started, there are ways to ease the pain:

  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or aspirin. These work best if you take them at the first sign of a migraine.
  • Use doctor-prescribed medications that block pain pathways in the brain or cause blood vessels to constrict, easing inflammation. These can include pills, nasal sprays or shots.
  • Go to a darkened, quiet room and try to relax or sleep
  • Apply cold or heat to your head and neck. Ice can numb the pain somewhat, while heat can relax tense muscles that may make your headache worse.
  • Drink something with caffeine. Yes, caffeine can trigger a migraine. But once the headache has started, a small amount of caffeine may help reduce pain.

If you’ve experienced migraines, you know how much they can affect your quality of life. But there are many ways to prevent and treat this common condition. A virtual visit your primary care provider can help you explore your options.

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