How to deal with chronic migraines

More than a simple headache, migraines are debilitating episodes that, because of their chronic nature, haunt sufferers with the constant fear of attacks, clusters, and rebounds.

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  • More than a simple headache, migraines are debilitating episodes that, because of their chronic nature, haunt sufferers with the constant fear of attacks, clusters, and rebounds. Having lived with chronic migraines since my early teens, I understand the cycle of symptoms — the pain, light-sensitivity, aura, nausea, sound-sensitivity — and the way that living in fear of attacks influences daily life and decisions.

  • The following are steps that can be taken to cope with chronic migraines, and should allow you to cut down on the number of migraines you experience.

  • Go See a Doctor

  • This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but for some (such as myself), it may take some prompting. Not all migraines are alike or respond to the same treatment. A doctor who understands, listens to all your symptoms, and can help work through options can change everything.

  • Establish a Support System

  • Something about migraines often makes sufferers secretive about their pain. It may be hard to open up, explain, or ask for help. But when the attack comes and you need a ride home, or someone to watch the kids, or help with covering the rest of a shift, it is such a relief to have a previously established network of supportive friends and family on call. Take the time to set up this network and have contact information ready.

  • Discover and try to Avoid Triggers

  • A “trigger” is anything that causes a migraine. While some of us will never be able to figure out all of our triggers, and some are somewhat universal (exhaustion, dehydration, low blood-sugar), paying attention and keeping a migraine journal can help us figure out and then avoid the things that trigger your migraines. For example, bright light is a very common trigger, and when I discovered it was one of my triggers, I found that a good, quality pair of polarized sunglasses, worn consistently, helps a lot. Other common known triggers to consider are:

  • Maintain a Sleep Routine

  • Migraines thrive on sleep deprivation and stress. However, extremes in either direction can trigger an attack, so the best way to keep migraines under control is to establish a sleep routine of regular, predictable hours. Go to bed at roughly the same time every night and get up at roughly the same time every morning to both reduce stress and help prevent migraines.

  • Hydrate

  • Hydration is the enemy of migraines. Drink ample amounts of water every day.

  • Exercise

  • While extreme or strenuous exercise can be a trigger for some people, moderate to light exercise is critical in keeping chronic migraines at bay — particularly exercise as part of a routine. As with sleep, routine deters attacks. Exercise reduces stress, balances chemicals, and helps with muscular-skeletal causes of migraines such as overly tight neck and shoulder muscles.

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  • Relax

  • Reduce the amount of stress in your life. Easier said than done, I know! Try relaxation techniques. I love a nice heat pad/cool compress on the back of my neck and/or across my forehead, especially during an attack.

  • Be proactive about reducing the number of attacks, but when they do come, my best advice isQuiet, Dark, and Sleep. Medicate per doctor’s recommendations, use an icepack on your forehead and a heat-pad on your neck/back of your head. Then find a quiet, dark place, and try to go to sleep.

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Tamara Webb has an MA in British and American Literature and also taught writing as an Adjunct Professor. She is a mother of five.


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