Don't Do These Things for a Migraine

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When you’re suffering from a migraine headache, you’ll try almost anything to relieve the throbbing and the pounding, even if just for a moment. But some of the things you think may help can actually hurt when you feel a migraine coming on.

Here’s what you should NOT do:

1. Don’t drink too much caffeine.

A caffeinated beverage is often recommended to help relieve migraines. In small amounts it can, in fact, relieve early stage migraine pain, alone or along with a pain reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin. But too much of a good thing—in this case drinking too much caffeine—can lead to withdrawal headaches later on.

2. Don’t skip meals.

When you’re in the throes of a migraine, grabbing a bite to eat may be the last thing on your mind. But it’s important to avoid going for long periods without food to keep your blood sugar on an even keel. Fasting and hypoglycemia (having abnormally low blood sugar, which can happen when you miss meals or snacks) can trigger migraines and other headaches, or make them worse.

3. Don’t eat simple carbs.

When you eat simple carbs, such as white sugar and pasta, your blood sugar rises, which tells your body to produce more insulin to help break down the sugar. More insulin then causes your blood sugar levels to drop significantly. This spike and plummet of blood sugar can lead to headaches and migraines.

4. Don’t vigorously exercise it away.

Some people turn to exercise during a migraine, perhaps hoping to outrun or pump away the pain. This can be helpful since the body releases certain chemicals during physical activity that help alleviate anxiety and depression, which can make migraines worse. But exercising too vigorously can trigger migraines, possibly due to changes in blood flow to the brain during prolonged exercise, so it’s best to take it slowly with a long warm-up, or opt for a more moderate activity like walking or an easy yoga routine.

5. Don’t steer clear of ALL triggers.

Doctors have always advised patients with migraines to steer clear of their triggers, such as stress or certain foods. But new research suggests that avoiding these things may actually increase sensitivity to potential triggers. It may be more helpful to learn to cope through things like relaxation therapy and stress management, or to keep a diary about your triggers (what, when and how long) and what provides relief.

6. Don’t avoid touching your head.

Though adding more pressure to your throbbing head may seem counterintuitive, putting pressure on your temples and massaging your scalp (using a lot of pressure) can actually ease the pain when you have a migraine. It may also help to put a cold, damp cloth on your forehead or lie down in a dark, quiet room.

7. Don’t only take medication.

Medication has been proven to help treat and prevent migraines, but it can’t work alone. Healthy lifestyle measures, like eating well, sleeping and exercising regularly, and controlling your stress, are also important—and often the most effective way—to help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, as well as help you cope with the pain when a migraine comes on. 

Migraines can be a real headache, but you don’t have to suffer. Keep a detailed diary of when migraines occur, noting exactly what was going on prior to the attack, including things like stress level, sleep loss, mood changes and exercise patterns, then talk to your doctor to find the treatment that works for you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 7

  1. Hypoglycaemia. The Migraine Trust.

  2. Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain. Mayo Clinic.

  3. Migraine Headaches: How to Deal With the Pain. American Family Physician

  4. Migraine Headaches.

  5. Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). NHS Choices.

  6. Sugar and Migraines: How your cravings can hurt you.

  7. Ask Well: Exercise and Headaches. The New York Times.

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