June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month and by sharing knowledge
and information, both within the medical community and with legislators
in Washington, DC, people can help remove the stigma that ultimately impacts
those living with migraine headaches every day.
According to the world renowned Mayo Clinic, migraines cause pain as real
as the pain of injuries — with one difference: Healthy habits and
simple nonmedical remedies sometimes stop migraines before they start.
Medication is a proven way to both treat and prevent migraines. But medication
is only part of the story. It's also important to take good care of
yourself and understand how to cope with migraine pain when it strikes.
The same lifestyle choices that promote overall good health can also reduce
the frequency and severity of your migraines. Combining medication with
behavioral measures and lifestyle can often be the most effective way
to handle migraines. Here are some simple steps for migraine headache relief.
Find a calm environment
At the first sign of a migraine, take a break and step away from whatever
you're doing if possible.
- Turn off the lights. Migraines often increase sensitivity to light and
sound. Relax in a dark, quiet room. Sleep if you can.
- Try temperature therapy. Apply hot or cold compresses to your head or neck.
Ice packs have a numbing effect, which may dull the sensation of pain.
Hot packs and heating pads can relax tense muscles. Warm showers or baths
may have a similar effect.
- Drink a caffeinated beverage. In small amounts, caffeine alone can relieve
migraine pain in the early stages or enhance the pain-reducing effects
of acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and aspirin.
Migraines may keep you from falling asleep or wake you up at night. Likewise,
migraines are often triggered by a poor night's sleep. Here are some
tips to encourage sound sleep.
- Establish regular sleep hours. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every
day — even on weekends. If you nap during the day, keep it short.
Naps longer than 20 to 30 minutes may interfere with nighttime sleep.
- Unwind at the end of the day. Anything that helps you relax can promote
better sleep: listen to soothing music, soak in a warm bath or read a
- But watch what you eat and drink before bedtime. Intense exercise, heavy
meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can interfere with sleep.
- Minimize distractions. Save your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Don't
watch television or take work materials to bed. Close your bedroom door.
Use a fan to muffle distracting noises.
- Don't try so hard to sleep. The harder you try to sleep, the more awake
you'll feel. If you can't fall asleep, read or do another quiet
activity until you become drowsy.
- Check your medications. Medications that contain caffeine or other stimulants
— including some medications to treat migraines — may interfere
- Be consistent. Eat at about the same time every day.
- Don't skip meals. Fasting increases the risk of migraines.
- Keep a food journal. Keeping track of the foods you eat and when you experience
migraines can help identify potential food triggers.
- Avoid foods that trigger migraines. If you suspect that a certain food
— such as aged cheese, chocolate, caffeine or alcohol — is
triggering your migraines, eliminate it from your diet to see what happens.
- During physical activity, your body releases certain chemicals that block
pain signals to your brain. These chemicals also help alleviate anxiety
and depression — and these two conditions can make migraines worse.
- Obesity also increases the risk of chronic headaches. Maintaining a healthy
weight through exercise and diet can provide additional benefits in managing
- If your doctor agrees, choose any exercise you enjoy. Walking, swimming
and cycling are often good choices. Just remember to ease into exercise
gradually, as very vigorous exercise may trigger migraines.
Stress and migraines often go hand in hand. You can't avoid daily stress,
but you can keep it under control to help manage your migraines:
- Simplify your life. Don't look for ways to squeeze more activities
or chores into the day. Instead, find a way to leave some things out.
- Manage your time wisely. Update your to-do list every day — both
at work and at home. Delegate what you can, and divide large projects
into manageable chunks.
- Take a break. If you feel overwhelmed, a few slow stretches or a quick
walk may renew your energy for the task at hand.
- Adjust your attitude. Stay positive. If you find yourself thinking, "This
can't be done," switch gears. Think instead, "This will
be tough. But I can make it work."
- Enjoy yourself. Find time to do something you enjoy for at least 15 minutes
every day. It could be playing a game, having coffee with a friend or
pursuing a hobby. Doing something you enjoy is a natural way to combat stress.
- Relax. Deep breathing from your diaphragm can help you relax. Focus on
inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply for at least 10 minutes every
day. It may also help to consciously relax your muscles, one group at
a time. When you're done, sit quietly for a minute or two.
Strive for balance
Living with migraines is a daily challenge. But making healthy lifestyle
choices can help. Ask your friends and loved ones for support. If you're
feeling anxious or depressed, consider joining a support group or seeking
counseling. Believe in your ability to take control of the pain.
For a free referral to a USC Arcadia Hospital physician who can assist you
with gaining relief from migraines or headaches, please call our physician
referral line at (888) 388-2838, or go to our website at