3 tips for dealing with migraines

Ask someone who deals with migraines to describe them, and you may hear anything from “intense throbbing” and “painful pulsating” to “completely debilitating.”

“A migraine not only causes pain and suffering, but its symptoms can also disrupt a person’s ability to work and participate in family life,” said Dr. Russell Amundson, national medical director at UnitedHealthcare. “That’s why it’s vital to figure out what might be causing a person’s troubles and to work toward preventing further pain.”

There are more than 10 types of migraines, but many are described as a headache with severe pain — often on one side of the head. These headaches can last for hours or even days. Symptoms like nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light or sound may occur. In some cases, hearing, vision or speech can be affected before and during a headache.

“Although it’s not fully understood how a migraine sufferer’s brain is different from the brain of someone who’s not affected by the headaches, we do know that people who deal with migraines are more susceptible to certain triggers,” Dr. Amundson said. “The key in treatment is zeroing in on those specific factors.”

Migraine triggers may include:

  • Stress
  • Eating specific foods or skipping meals
  • Drinking too much or too little caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Changes in physical activity
  • Sleep issues
  • Weather

Here are three tips Dr. Amundson suggests for understanding and dealing with migraines.

1. Track your headaches and other symptoms

Using a migraine diary to log your headaches can be an effective way to properly diagnose and treat migraines. Over time, patterns in the diary may emerge, which can help you and your doctor come up with ways to prevent, manage and treat your migraines. 

Some things to consider for a diary include: 

  • Date, time and duration of the headache
  • Pain rating on a 1-10 scale
  • Possible triggers
  • Symptoms leading up to the headache
  • Treatment used to alleviate symptoms
  • Response to treatment

 View and download a migraine diary

2. Be detailed and candid while speaking with a doctor

Ongoing communication is vital for developing a treatment plan for migraines, including any home remedies, headache relief medications or preventive therapies. Be thorough in your answers to your doctor’s questions about your symptoms and possible triggers. If treatment is ineffective, be clear about that too — and feel empowered to talk about whether a referral to a specialist may be best.

You may be able to use your insurance plan’s provider search tool to find local headache specialists.

3. Develop a plan for dealing with flare-ups

Even when you seem to understand your migraine triggers and how to avoid them, an unexpected headache could strike, or your medication could fail. If you need to seek treatment, there may be options that could save you time and money, if the situation is not life-threatening. Consider several solutions for dealing with surprise migraine issues, including:

  • Getting in touch with your migraine doctor
  • Logging into a virtual visit for care
  • Visiting a nearby urgent care

It’s important to remember: If you live with migraines, you are not alone. Migraines affect about 1 in 10 people worldwide, including 39 million in the U.S. They are most common in 20- to 50-year-olds. The condition is also three times more common in women than in men.

“If the first treatment you try doesn't work, make another appointment to talk about more options,” Dr. Amundson said. “The more you learn about migraines and your specific triggers, the easier it may be to find relief.”

Learn more about migraine symptoms and treatment.

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