Five Ways to Stop a Migraine Before it Starts

June 11, 2017

Chances are you or somebody you know has suffered from a migraine headache before. An estimated 37 million people in the United States – roughly the entire population of California – experience migraines regularly. They usually begin as a dull ache that quickly spirals into an intense, pulsating pain. Migraines can last anywhere between a few hours and a few days and are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness and extreme sensitivity to light and sounds.

A life with migraines can be a struggle. But we have some good news for migraine sufferers.

Dr. Gwyneth McCawley, neurologist with Mercy Clinic Neurology and Headache Center in St. Louis, has five straightforward steps that can help you avoid migraines and get back to living your life to the fullest.

  1. Get your beauty sleep. Catching enough zzzs is critical for keeping migraines at bay. A sleep-deprived week followed by a Saturday spent sleeping-in could have the potential to ruin your weekend with a headache. Dr. McCawley recommends staying in a routine by going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning.
  2. Eat. Skipping meals can change hormones in your body, another migraine trigger. Don’t go more than six or seven hours without food and be sure to include protein, leafy greens and vegetables. For snacks, think string cheese, yogurt, trail mix with nuts and fruit, granola bars or protein bars.
  3. Cut the caffeine. If you can’t go without it, try limiting yourself to no more than 100-200 mLs a day. For example, a cup of coffee has about 100 mLs, soda has 60 and black tea has 30-40. Too much caffeine can not only bring on a migraine, it can make you have a migraine more often.
  4. Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water decreases pain perception in your brain. If you get dehydrated, it can set off a migraine.
  5. Exercise. Aerobic activity has been shown to protect against migraines, so whether it’s power walking or weight lifting, your heart rate needs to be elevated for 30 minutes to get the full effect.
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If you’re experiencing regular migraines, Dr. McCawley recommends talking to your doctor who will want to understand the history of your headaches. It can be helpful if you keep a diary of headache times, triggers, medications used and how well they worked.

While there is no cure for migraines, your doctor can help develop a strategy for prevention and treatment so that migraines don’t get the best of your summer.

Find a Mercy specialist, or learn more about headaches here.

Dr. Gwyneth McCawley is a fellowship-trained neurologist practicing at Mercy Clinic Neurology and Headache Center in St. Louis. Call 314-227-2020 to schedule an appointment.


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