Migraine: causes and how you can prevent them

Migraine: causes and how you can prevent them

Sounds familiar? Like you it goes more than every 10. Adults, as 10-15% of the population suffer from regular migraine attacks (Yoon et al. 2012). Migraine is a condition characterized primarily by prolonged headaches. At the same time, migraine attacks usually last up to 72 hours and are often only endurable with medication. Headaches usually worsen when patients are exposed to light or noise during the attack, and movement also worsens symptoms (Goadsby et al. 2017).

Many sufferers are also affected by accompanying symptoms in addition to headaches. It is not uncommon for a migraine attack to be accompanied by nausea and vomiting or to be accompanied by an aura. About one-third of patients have aura symptoms, such as speech or visual disturbances, that precede the headache (Goadsby et al. 2017). If the aura occurs, the migraine attack has already begun. Some people can still mitigate the migraine attack at this point with medications such as ibuprofen, ASA or triptans, or high-dose nutritional supplements such as magnesium, or alleviate the accompanying symptoms such as nausea. However, therapy is highly individualized and each sufferer must work with their treating physician to find the best agents for them.

Migraines affect people of all ages, but women are about 5 times as likely as men (arzteblatt 2019).

Migraine: causes and how you can prevent them

Biological causes of migraine

Migraine can have a wide variety of causes, and unfortunately these are not yet fully understood either. As in therapy, the individual causes also seem to vary widely. In general, genetics and environmental factors seem to play a role.

Changes in the brain also seem to trigger migraine attacks. Discussed as both interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway, or an imbalance of serotonin, which helps regulate pain in your nervous system.

Other neurotransmitters likely play a role in migraine pain as well, including calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP).

Migraine due to stress

Migraines can also be triggered by conscious or unconscious stress. Conscious stress is, for example, stressful life events or strokes of fate, where you clearly feel the strain and stress. Very drastic experiences, by the way, can promote migraines to such an extent that an episodic migraine can become a chronic form. But daily anger or a busy schedule can also unconsciously trigger long-term stress, which can trigger a migraine attack or intensify the symptoms. Migraine attacks caused by stress are particularly unfavorable, since they occur in situations in which one should actually be efficient and fit, in the (work) everyday life shortly before important project conclusions or also during the organization of the own round birthday. With such clear connections, it stands to reason that stress-reducing measures such as relaxation exercises or delegating tasks to others can alleviate migraine and its symptoms (Stubberud et al. 2021).

Conversely, it is also frequently observed that a migraine attack only occurs when the stress level drops, for example, the project completion is done or the work week is over and the relaxing weekend starts (Lipton et al. 2014).

Migraine: causes and how you can prevent them

Migraine due to blood sugar fluctuations

Studies have shown that there are direct correlations between elevated or decreased blood glucose levels and migraine (Siva et al. 2018; Gruber et al. 2010). Blood glucose is affected primarily by high-carbohydrate meals, but also by exercise or medication. A rise and fall in blood sugar is normal, but how high it rises and how low it falls varies depending on the meal and, above all, for each person. Therefore, it is important that migraine sufferers try to keep their blood sugar as stable as possible. Such a diet has been shown to lower pain intensity and attack frequency (Evcili 2018).

What you can do about migraines

Under certain circumstances (for example, if you suffer from migraines on at least three days per month, are generally very restricted in your everyday life by your migraines, or do not respond well to your acute therapy), you can be prescribed a pharmacological, i.e. drug-based, prophylaxis by your doctor if you so wish. However, medications are often accompanied by side effects, which is why prophylactics often have to be changed or discontinued. Also, the effectiveness varies among patients, as prophylaxis must be tailored to individual symptoms. This is often why a change may be necessary (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Neurologie e.V. (DGN) 2018).

Non-medicinal prophylaxis is rare in current therapy, but it is effective for many sufferers (German Society for Neurology).V. (DGN) 2018). Taking magnesium as a dietary supplement, muscle relaxation, yoga or moderate endurance sports are among the lifestyle adjustments that many migraine sufferers use. Nutrition also plays an important role. Not only as explained the sugar has an influence, also the amount of drinking and regular eating are important; the migraine brain needs oxygen and energy regularly.

Migraine: Identifying causes and preventing them

You can only find out the exact triggers for your migraine attacks for yourself. A change in weather from rain to sun, from low pressure to high pressure, can trigger an attack in many patients with migraines.

As mean as it is: sleeping in on the weekend when you get up early during the week can also lead to a migraine attack. In such cases, it is advisable to set an alarm clock also on weekends and to keep the rhythm of the week as much as possible.

Keeping a food diary can help you monitor whether your migraines are triggered by certain foods or whether you may be underdrinking. A direct correlation between adequate drinking (2-3L per day) and improvement in migraine has already been scientifically proven (Spigt et al. 2012). Whether certain foods can trigger migraine attacks has not yet been conclusively researched. Probably there is also a strong individuality between the sufferers, so you can only find out for yourself. The same is true for fasting or skipping meals. Many, but not all, migraineurs respond to prolonged periods without food with a migraine attack (Martins-Oliveira, Tavares, and Goadsby 2021; Gazerani 2020).

With sinCephalea, you can find out whether your diet may be causing severe fluctuations in blood sugar, triggering your migraine or increasing your migraine attacks.

Through targeted prevention, you can avoid attacks or at least alleviate the symptoms and thus often reduce your need for painkillers. And last but not least, you can then also participate more in social life and work better and more concentrated.

Short conclusion:

You’re not alone in your migraines, nor are you alone in your pain and symptoms. Medication can provide significant relief as a prophylactic, but changes to your lifestyle such as exercise, relaxation exercises or dietary adjustments can also make big changes. Your migraine is as individual as you are in its causes and symptoms – and accordingly, your necessary therapy as well.

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