Stop Migraines Before They Start

Prevent attacks before they even start by learning what sets them off. The key is to stick to a schedule.

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How to Avoid a Migraine


Keeping the same bedtime, eating regular meals and caffeinating consistently can help. Follow these steps for a pain-free day.

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6:30 a.m. Take a Brisk Walk


Regularly working out can relieve stress (a trigger for three-quarters of all sufferers) and stabilize the chemicals in your brain. One 2011 study found that people who performed aerobic exercise three times a week experienced a 93% reduction in migraine attacks. If physical activity
is a trigger for you, talk to your doctor about popping a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), like the prescription indomethacin, before your workout.

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7:45 a.m. Avoid Strong Scents


Switch to fragrance-free soaps and shampoos.

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8:30 a.m. Drink Coffee


Although caffeine is a trigger for some people, the stimulant is a well-known remedy for others. If you're a java drinker, stick with the same beverage every morning, as withdrawal can also cause migraines.

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9:00 a.m. Cook a Better Breakfast


Aged cheeses, citrus fruits and processed meats, which typically contain nitrates, can set off attacks. You don't have to avoid what you love, says Andrew Charles, M.D., director of the headache research and treatment program at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Just consume them in moderation.

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12:30 p.m. Make Time for Lunch


Even when your to-do list promises a frantic day, remember to eat. Skipping a meal causes blood sugar levels to drop, which may cause a migraine. (If you occasionally forget to grab a bite, set a reminder on your phone.) Be aware that dairy, wheat, nuts, chocolate, deli meat and fermented foods, like pickles, can also be triggers.

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3:15 p.m. Keep Your Cool


Homework struggles. Scheduling conflicts. PTO deadlines. Head off stress before it spirals out of control by tapping into one or two sources of instant calm—like looking at Facebook photos of your last vacation, watching a funny YouTube video or doing a few yoga poses in your living room.

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6:15 p.m. Take It Easy on the Vino


Don't drink while preparing dinner—not only is wine, especially red, linked to migraines in some women, but imbibing on an empty stomach also exacerbates its effects.

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7:30 p.m. Get a Weather Report


"About 30% of sufferers are sensitive to weather fluctuations," says Vincent Martin, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, whose recent study found that stormy weather increased a person's odds of having a migraine by 28%. If a front is rolling in, pop an OTC anti-inflammatory, like Advil, as soon as you start experiencing symptoms.

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8:45 p.m. Schedule (much-needed) Downtime


No matter what you feel like doing—reading a book that doesn't star a cartoon character, watching reruns of The Office or walking in the park—get R&R every day. Life balance manages stress.

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9:30 p.m. Eat a Snack


Ward off hunger by having a bite before bed, says Dr. Martin. It will decrease the likelihood of a migraine the next day. Try an apple or a handful of almonds.

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10:15 p.m. Catch Some ZZZ's


Maintaining a regular bedtime, skipping naps and turning off the TV before you go to sleep can reduce the intensity and frequency of attacks after just six weeks, found one study in the journal Headache.

Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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