Migraine

What is migraine?

A migraine is a type of headache that lasts between two and 72 hours and causes moderate to severe pain. It differs with common headache in that the pain is supplemented with other symptoms, such as sensitivity to light and smell, disrupting daily life activities. Migraines are three times more common in women than in men; and can also occur in children. It is thought that migraines may be related to hormones because migraines sometimes disappear during pregnancy and get worse during menopause.

Symptoms of migraine (may include one or more):

  • Throbbing pain only on one side of the head
  • Pain that gets worse when they move around
  • Pain that gets better with rest in a dark, quiet space
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light, sound or smells

25% of people who suffer with migraines have what’s called an “aura” before or during an attack. An aura may cause:

  • Vision loss
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Visions of lights or bright zigzag flashes.

Cause of migraine

The exact cause of migraines is not known. In some cases, certain foods, drinks or food additives may cause migraines, commonly including:

  • Alcohol – especially red wine, beer and sherry
  • Sulphites – found in dried fruit, canned vegetables, jam, wine and beer
  • Tannins – found in tea and wine
  • Aged and fermented cheeses – like Swiss and parmesan
  • Tyramine – found in aged cheese, salted or smoked meat (salami, liverwurst) and soy–based products (miso, soy sauce)
  • Citrus – oranges, lemons, grapefruit
  • Chocolate
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – in Chinese food, sauces and salad dressings
  • Nitrites – found in processed deli meats
  • Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose – for example, in sugarless gum and diet pop
  • Fatty foods

In addition to the foods listed above, migraines may be triggered by:

  • Fasting or skipping meals
  • Being dehydrated – not having enough fluids
  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep
  • Bright or flickering light
  • Loud noises
  • Changes in weather
  • Strong scents
  • Allergic reactions
  • Caffeine withdrawal – for example, if you quit drinking coffee
  • Stress
  • A wide variety of drugs, including birth control pills

Treatment

Take medication either when symptoms occur or everyday to reduce how often migraines occur. Other than medicine, few home remedies may help, such as applying ice and/or pressure to the head, or resting in a dark, quiet room. Some people find alternative practices such as acupuncture, relaxation therapy and hypnosis to be helpful.

Some studies have looked at whether different vitamins and herbs can reduce migraine pain, but there is no proof yet that they work. Talk to your doctor or Registered Dietitian for more information before taking high doses of supplements.

What can you do?

If you or a loved one is suffering from a migraine, try taking a note of the foods you eat and drink before the start of your migraine. It may help to keep a record of the foods you eat and when you get migraines. Eliminating that food from your diet may help you avoid migraines in the future. Removing foods that trigger migraines should be safe as long as you don’t stop eating entire food groups. If you do need to remove many foods, work with a Registered Dietitian on an eating plan so that all of your nutrient needs are being met.

If you suffer from severe migraines, consult with your doctor for best options for you.

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