More Than A Headache - Managing Migraines

woman with migraines

Nearly one in four women suffer from migraines — the throbbing head pain that often includes other symptoms that make it difficult to function. People of all ages get migraines, however, women experience migraines three times more often than men. Women between the ages of 20-45 are most at risk for migraines because research shows hormone changes trigger them. Some good news — menopause may reduce their frequency and severity.

Some people experience migraines rarely, while others battle them more often.

Common migraine triggers:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Hormonal changes due to menstrual cycle
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Skipping meals or changes in eating habits
  • Certain foods, such as those that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates, aspartame, or tyramine (found in aged cheeses, soy, and smoked fish, among others)
  • Caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
  • Alcohol (especially red wine)
  • Changes in weather
  • Bright lights
  • Strong odors
  • Loud noises

Prevention: Identifying and avoiding your triggers are key to preventing migraines. Keeping a headache diary provides important insights on triggers and data to help you anticipate future migraines and manage the pain. The diary should include the time and date of migraine onset and end, symptoms, possible triggers, and pain relief.

Treatment: There are two types of medications to treat migraines: One that prevents migraine attacks, and one that treats migraines when they occur. In addition to medication, there are other ways to help prevent migraines. Some neurologists use Botox, approved by the Food and Drug Administration to successfully treat patients who have regular migraines.

Biofeedback also treats migraines by providing information about how your body responds to stress. For example, biofeedback may reveal patterns of muscle tension, which you can then be aware of and use to relax the muscles and prevent migraine triggers. Acupuncture and relaxation techniques may also help.

When to Get Help: Check with your primary care provider if you have any questions or concerns about the frequency or intensity of your headaches. Sometimes, a headache can signify a more serious health issue. If your headaches are frequent, long-lasting, disrupt your life, or cause nausea, vomiting, confusion, convulsions, or sensory problems like tingling or numbness in your face or hands, you should contact your primary care provider. “Migraines impact women in many ways,” explains Agnes Virga, MD, a neurologist with Emerson Health. “You do not need to suffer alone. There are new and often life-changing therapies available, giving great hope to millions of people who suffer from migraines. Contact your primary care provider for the latest information.” To find a doctor, visit