How to Avoid a Migraine Before It Happens

Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA on November 28, 2017Written by Leigh Reason and Tricia Kinman

Preventing migraines

Around 39 million Americans experience migraine headaches, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. If you’re one of these people, you know the sometimes debilitating symptoms they can cause, which include:

By identifying and avoiding specific triggers, you can minimize your chances of having a migraine.

Read on to learn how to avoid a migraine before it begins.

1. Avoid loud noises and bright lights

Loud noises, flashing lights (for example, strobe lights), and sensory stimulation are common triggers for migraine headaches. These stimuli may be difficult to avoid, but knowing that they occur in certain situations and environments could help. These include:

  • driving at night
  • being in movie theaters
  • attending clubs or crowded venues
  • experiencing glare from the sun

Take breaks from the TV or computer screen to rest your eyes, and adjust the brightness levels on digital screens. Pay close attention to all visual and audio disturbances, and make sure you can easily avoid them if a migraine arises.

2. Pay attention to food choices

Certain foods and drinks can initiate headaches, such as:

  • chocolate
  • red wine
  • processed meats
  • sweeteners
  • cheese

Know which foods and additives bring about a headache for you and learn to avoid them. Foods and drinks with caffeine or alcohol — especially red wines or champagne — are common triggers. Limit the amount you consume during the day, or avoid them altogether if need be.

3. Keep a headache diary

By keeping a diary, you can easily identify your specific migraine triggers. Here are examples of the things you could keep note of:

This can help you see a pattern in your migraine occurrences and will make avoiding one easier.

4. Beware of hormonal changes

Hormones play a significant role in terms of migraines. Many women tend to experience more migraine headaches during, or just before, their menstrual period. Women should be especially vigilant with their diet and exercise habits during this time. This will ease symptoms before they begin. According to the Mayo Clinic, oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may increase the frequency and severity of migraines. Some women may find relief by switching to another form of birth control, while others may find they have fewer migraines while taking birth control.

5. Take supplements

Although migraines can be treated with or without medications, it’s important to get the proper nutrients. Taking certain herbs and minerals may help ward off migraines. Magnesium deficiency has been shown to contribute to the onset of migraines, so taking a daily supplement may help reduce outbursts. However, the Mayo Clinic reports that the results from these studies have been mixed. Talk with your doctor about herbal remedies and other nonprescription supplements that may ease your symptoms.

6. Pay attention to the weather

Changes in the weather can impact your migraine patterns. High humidity and hot temperatures can stimulate headaches, as well as rainy days. If the weather becomes uncomfortable for you, you may need to step inside and take a break from the outdoors. Of course, you can’t always avoid going outside, but you can minimize your time spent in certain headache-inducing weather.

7. Eat and sleep on a regular schedule

Fasting or skipping meals can trigger migraine headaches. Make sure you eat within an hour of waking up and then every three to four hours. Hunger and dehydration both cause migraines. Make sure you’re drinking enough water, and never skip a meal.

Lack of sleep can also aggravate symptoms, so make sure you clock in at least seven to eight hours. Even getting too much sleep can cause headaches, so don’t try to make up for lost sleep by snoozing too long.

8. Avoid stress

Although we can’t always control stressful situations, we can control how we react to them. Migraines are a common result of stressful events. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and biofeedback can help reduce levels of stress.

9. Choose relaxing exercises

Regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But intense exercise, such as weight lifting, can trigger headaches.

Pay attention to your body’s response to certain activities. Opt for activities that promote stress reduction without putting too much strain on the body, such as yoga, light aerobics, or tai chi. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs prior to exercise may help ease symptoms.

Plan ahead

Learning to avoid your specific triggers and planning ahead are an important part of keeping your migraines under control. By catching them early, you can avoid the most severe symptoms.

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