Migraine headaches are one of the most common pain syndromes that send a person to the doctor. More than 28 million people suffer from migraine headaches, which are characterized by rapid onset of throbbing pain, usually on one side and often associated with nausea or vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound. Women are more likely than men to have migraines, at a ratio of 3:1.
For many migraine patients, their headaches cause them significant distress and result in missed days from work or school.
To effectively manage migraines, it is important to address lifestyle factors that may be contributing to headaches — factors such as stress, diet, sleep patterns and exercise. It is also important to look for other underlying causes.
If you suffer from headaches, one of the first things you need to do is to keep a calendar of your headaches and the foods you eat. This can help you or your doctor identify possible food triggers for your headaches. Up to 30 percent of patients with migraines will have a food trigger; common ones are wine, MSG, aged cheeses and processed meats like hot dogs and bologna and artificial sweeteners.
Caffeine may play a role in headaches, so I usually advise my patients with migraines to wean themselves off of caffeine products. Some food triggers may be hard to identify because they can take 24 to 48 hours to cause symptoms. Many times, I will have my patients try an elimination diet for a few weeks to help determine whether food is playing a role in their headaches.
Conventional approaches to migraines generally rely on pharmaceutical drugs to treat or prevent the headaches; however, many of these drugs have significant side effects that limit their usefulness.
Integrative therapies, like supplements and botanicals, may provide an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs or may be used in addition to them.
There are many different supplements that have shown benefit in reducing the severity and frequency of migraine headaches. One of my favorites is magnesium, which is important in muscle relaxation and energy production. Studies have shown a benefit using around 400 to 600mg of magnesium per day. I commonly add in Coenzyme Q10, riboflavin and fish oil.
Stress can play a big role in migraine headaches, so it is important to incorporate some type of relaxation practice in to your daily routine. Yoga and meditation have shown benefit in headache reduction, as have therapies like biofeedback and hypnosis. Many migraine sufferers have had good results with acupuncture; if you are not too sensitive to needles, it may be worth exploring.
Although medicine hasn’t found a cure for migraines, many patients find that addressing lifestyle issues and incorporating integrative therapies can significantly improve their migraines and help them return to a better quality of life.
• Heidi Rula, M.D., is a physician at Integrative Care for Women in Mesa. Reach her at (480) 699-2508 or www.IntegrativeCareforWomen.com