Migraine headaches can be torture. Efforts to stop them once they’ve started don’t a have great track record.
Once people begin experiencing a migraine, they mostly just want to retreat to a dark, quiet place.
Given that 12 percent of the population endures these attacks, medical science is working to find a way to prevent them. But they are poorly understood.
It’s believed that migraines may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Imbalances in brain chemicals appear to be involved.
Women in their childbearing years are at most risk, particularly if they have a family history of migraines. That speaks to both the genetic and environmental factors.
So how does that help people who are suffering?
The best way to prevent a migraine is to pay attention to the factors that may trigger them. For example:
- Stress. Yoga, meditation and other stress-reducing activities seem to reduce the incidence of migraines. Stress may incite the secretion of some brain chemicals associated with these headaches.
- Hormones. Migraines are three times more likely to affect women than men, in part because fluctuations in estrogen levels are believed to be a trigger. Women with a history of migraines report they come around the time of their period when hormone levels fluctuate most. For these women, contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy may reduce the incidence of migraines.
- Artificial sweeteners. Both aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) have been associated with migraines. Aspartame is best known as NutraSweet and Equal. MSG is a salt-like flavor enhancer often found in processed foods.
- Alcohol and caffeine. Both may trigger migraines by stimulating the release of offending brain chemicals. Wine seems to be a particular culprit. Migraine sufferers should avoid wine and highly-caffeinated drinks.
- Sensory stimulation. Bright lights, including sunshine, loud noises, and strong smells, particularly cigarette smoke, have been linked to migraines. Avoiding these may not always be possible, but to the extent, they can be, that might reduce the number of migraines.
- Weather. Sudden changes in air pressure – also known as barometric pressure – can precipitate a migraine. No one can change the weather, but they can anticipate the arrival of a migraine by taking an analgesic and retreating to a quiet, dark room.
- Other factors. Migraine triggers vary from person to person. Sleep and certain medications have been connected to migraines. Everyone should monitor their own triggers and avoid them when possible.
There is another way to eliminate these headaches altogether, and that is to determine if they aren’t migraines at all. Many headaches are actually misdiagnosed as migraines by doctors who don’t understand the relationship between some headaches and misalignment of the jaw. Discussing the issue with your dentist could lead to a simple solution that eliminates or ameliorates the problem.
For more blogs by Dr. Daniel Klauer, click here.