Migraines are a debilitating type of headache accompanied by vicious side effects like nausea and vomiting. More than 37 million people in the U.S. experience these horrific attacks, and about one in four households have someone experiencing the condition. These numbers may be artificially low, since more than 50% of people with migraines don’t get diagnosed. If you suffer from migraines, here’s 33 tips for how to prevent migraines before they even start. These tips include everything from lifestyle management guidelines to interventional procedures, including:
- Tracking the migraine triggers that are causing your migraines
- Trying supplements, herbs, or essential oils to prevent pain
- Reducing caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol in your diet
- Using stress management techniques
- Talking to your doctor about preventative medications
- Learning more about nerve blocks or neuromodulation
- Considering alternative therapies like Cefaly or Botox
How to prevent migraines: the basics
While over-the-counter medications or even a few glasses of water may lessen a regular headache, migraines are typically immune to these traditional treatment options. Researchers aren’t sure what causes the attacks, but believe they may result from disturbances in the brain’s chemical or electrical systems.
While garden-variety headaches usually involve pain and nothing more, migraines develop through four distinct phases.
- Prodromal phase: This is the precursor to a migraine. It involves shifts in energy or mood, and may result in odd food cravings or other changes in behavior. This first phase may appear as long as a day before a migraine strikes.
- Aura phase: Also precedes the actual pain of a migraine, usually by about 20 minutes or one hour. During the aura phase, individuals will see odd visuals, such as metallic lines. Not all migraine sufferers experience auras.
- Attack phase: Period of time lasting anywhere from four to 72 hours during which a person experiences the acute pain of a migraine. Throbbing or pulsing pain may develop on one or both sides of the head. Other symptoms may include light sensitivity, blurred vision, or nausea.
- Postdrome phase: Aftermath of a migraine, during which individuals feel tired, although some patients say they feel mildly euphoric.
The following video gives more information about migraines.
1. Get the right diagnosis
One of the best ways for how to prevent migraines is to ask yourself this question: Are you suffering from a headache or a migraine? ShareCare.com recommends getting the right diagnosis so you can better treat your pain from the beginning. Our post “Migraine Vs. Headache — 6 Major Differences You Need To Know” also lists common symptoms that can help you determine if you’re suffering from a headache or migraine. A pain doctor is also instrumental in helping you get the right diagnosis.
Migraines do not typically indicate a more serious health concern. Very rarely, migraines may indicate a more serious issue such as a brain tumor, but this isn’t typical. Causes for concern include attacks that occur suddenly, with no personal history, and neurological disturbances such as dizziness, slurring, confusion, or numbness.
2. Know your early warning signs and take action
If you do experience a prodromal phase, knowing the early warning signs of your migraine, whether aura or fatigue, can alert you that a migraine is about to happen. Other early warning signs include dizziness or nausea.
For how to prevent a migraine when it’s on its way, find a cool, dark, and quiet room to rest. Drink plenty of water, and use natural pressure point therapy to reduce pain. It may not prevent your migraine completely, but it could reduce its duration or intensity.
3. Avoid loud noises and bright lights
One of the best ways for how to prevent migraines is also one of the most straightforward. As HealthLine.com writes:
“Certain situations like driving at night, movie theaters, clubs or crowded venues, and glare from the sun are common environments that may cause migraines. Take breaks from the TV or computer screen to rest your eyes, and adjust the brightness levels on digital screens. Pay close attention to all visual and audio disturbances, and make sure you can easily avoid them if a migraine arises.”
4. Identify your migraine triggers
Identifying your triggers is one of the first strategies you should use for how to prevent migraines in the future. Triggers vary from person to person, but may include:
- Specific food additives like preservatives
- Soy products that contain high levels of tyramine
- Foods, like aged cheeses, which contain high levels of tyramine
- Cold foods
- Alcohol, particularly red wine or champagne
- Changes in weather
- Hormonal changes
- Smoking, or exposure to cigarette smoke
- Bright, flickering lights
- Medication, such as hormonal birth control
While migraines are often difficult to treat, one way of alleviating pain is to recognize and manage triggers. Although migraines are scary and extremely disruptive to life, many patients find comfort in knowing their triggers because it gives some semblance of control over the debilitating attacks.
5. Track your triggers
Treating migraines is very individualized because each person has a different experience with triggers and treatments. Through symptom tracking, the patient records when pain appeared, how severe it was, and what symptoms were involved, such as an aura. Tracking pain may help to identify triggers or an overall pattern connected, for example, to hormones. WebMD recommends asking yourself the following questions:
“Note what you were doing before and when your headache came on. What were you eating? How much sleep did you get the night before? Did anything stressful or important happen that day?”
6. Use a pain diary app
While keeping track with paper and a pen is one way of recording attacks, many mobile apps are available to simplify the process. My Pain Diary, for instance, provides color-coded calendar days for tracking and helps create detailed reports, ready for doctor analysis. The app even provides space to catalogue diet, weather, sleep patterns, and stress to provide a comprehensive overview of the factors that may trigger migraines.
7. Know when you have to be “on”
For some people, certain triggers may almost predict an oncoming migraine. Some women, for example, typically get migraines right before menstruating. Or others may know that rainy weather often predicts a migraine. During these periods when migraines are more likely to occur, make sure you’re more actively managing and reducing any other triggers that could cause a migraine.
8. Change your eating habits
If you’ve identified that certain foods are triggering your migraines, changing your eating habits is one of the best ways for how to prevent migraines. You can increase the amount of foods you eat with magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. Reduce any you eat that contain triggers, such as chocolate, alcohol, or preserved food.
9. Don’t skip meals
How to prevent migraines? Watch your blood sugar levels. Skipping meals or fasting, and throwing your blood sugar levels off, can also lead to the development of migraines.
10. See if supplements could help
Many people can get the nutrients they need from a whole food based diet. If this isn’t possible for you, talk to your doctors about supplements that could help you reduce migraine frequency. These include:
- Fish oil
- Coenzyme Q10
11. Try migraine-fighting herbs
Some herbs have also been recommended for preventing migraines. The most common ones are feverfew and butterbur. The Migraine Trust has more information about each of these herbs.
12. Use essential oils for migraines
Want to know how to prevent migraines before they start? When you feel a migraine come on, consider using essential oils to reduce pain. EverydayHealth explains:
“Not only does lavender smell great — it’s also a useful home remedy for headaches and migraine pain. Lavender oil can be either inhaled or applied topically. Two to four drops for every two to three cups of boiling water are recommended when inhaling lavender-oil vapors as a headache treatment.”
Other commonly recommended oils include peppermint oil and basil oil.
13. Consider cutting out caffeine
Caffeine can be difficult, since some migraine sufferers report that caffeine withdrawal actually leads to migraines. Others, however, report that after cutting caffeine, they experienced fewer migraine episodes per month. Keep track of your triggers to see if cutting out caffeine could help prevent your migraines.
14. Quit smoking
It’s common advice, but it bears repeating for how to prevent migraines. Studies have shown:
“[T]hat smoking more than 5 cigarettes per day is more likely to trigger migraines. If you are unable to quit, limiting yourself to fewer than 5 each day might have some benefit.”
While reducing how many you have may have benefit, quitting completely is always advised. This is true for migraines and many other chronic pain conditions. Learn more about how to quit here.
15. Stay hydrated
It’s a simple one that you’ve probably heard before for how to prevent migraines, but staying hydrated can reduce your chances of developing a migraine.
Another simple one, but just as important. Consistent exercise can limit stress, reduce inflammation, and boost mood. Stick to low to moderate intensity workouts as high-intensity activity can sometimes lead to migraines. Ease into exercise with an adequate warm-up time as well. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure what exercise is best for you.
17. Reduce your weight
Excess weight can lead to more inflammation in the body. As Health.com notes: “Women with greater amounts of belly fat are 37 percent more likely to get migraines than those who have trimmer torsos, according to a 2009 Drexel University College of Medicine study.”
18. Create a stress management strategy
Stress is a part of life, but too much stress, or unmanaged stress, can lead to more migraine symptoms. Try the following relaxation strategies on a daily or weekly basis to start managing your stress:
Mayo Clinic provides even more relaxation methods for migraine sufferers.
19. Try a DIY scalp massage
A scalp massage can hit key pressure points that may reduce pain. Try the quick routine below.
20. Prioritize sleep
Missing sleep, or having an inconsistent sleep schedule, can wreak havoc on your body. Ensure you get steady and consistent sleep for one of the best ways for how to prevent migraines. You can find our sleep hygiene tips here.
21. Try biofeedback
Biofeedback is the process of learning to control different body symptoms like temperature and heart rate. This all-natural treatment may help alleviate chronic pain symptoms, including those associated with migraines. Through biofeedback, patients may be able to lessen pain or even prevent an attack altogether.
22. Talk to your doctor about your birth control
If you’re taking hormonal birth control, it could be causing your migraine episodes. Or, if you’re taking a pill pack with “off” weeks, this fluctuation in hormones could cause them. Talk to your doctor about different birth control methods or taking your pills continuously to reduce fluctuations. NHS also recommends some other birth control options you can try, including:
- Progesterone-only contraceptives
- Estrogen patches or gels
- Combined hormonal contraceptives
- Hormone-free IUDs
23. Consider interventional options
The following methods have largely been DIY or at-home methods you can employ to prevent migraines. The following video gives a brief overview of the more effective methods for how to prevent migraines. However, if your migraine pain is seriously affecting your quality of life, it may be time to talk to your doctor about more advanced options, such as medication or interventional procedures.
24. Talk to your doctor about preventative medications
While many think about taking pain-relieving medications only after they’ve started experiencing pain, there are many medications doctors use to prevent migraines before they even start. Medications can be an invaluable tool for how to prevent migraines, but they should also be used with care and only after you’ve exhausted other migraine prevention strategies.
When taking migraine medications:
- Talk to your doctor about the most appropriate, lowest dose you can take to find relief
- Do not suddenly stop taking these medications, but instead use a tapering method approved by your doctor
- Know that medications can only go so far in preventing pain
- Continue to use complementary therapies and lifestyle changes in addition to medication
You should only try migraine medications if:
- Other less-intensive migraine treatments haven’t worked
- You’re committed to using them in the dosage and frequency dictated by your doctor
- You suffer from two or more migraine attacks per month that drastically interrupt your daily life
- Over-the-counter pain relievers are no longer working to reduce pain
Drugs.com has a comprehensive list of the different medications used to prevent migraines, but the following gives a brief overview of the most common types.
25. Anti-seizure medications
Many people do find some measure of relief with anti-seizure drugs that calm nerve cells. Prevention.com reports:
“For some migraine sufferers, prescription drugs to stop seizures (such as topiramate and valporic acid) also reduce migraine frequency by at least 50%, possibly because they inhibit some neurotransmitters. But they can cause adverse side effects, such as confusion and drowsiness.”
26. Beta-blocker medications
Beta-blockers usually treat high blood pressure and heart disease. Because of their effects on blood flow and circulation, they may also help with migraines. Ones to look for include:
As WebMD reports:
“These medications affect the level of the brain chemical serotonin, which may be linked to migraines. Some of them, such as amitriptyline (Elavil) and venlafaxine (Effexor), can help keep the headaches away. Other kinds may work, too.”
28. Combine medications with therapy
Patient.Info reports that there can also be great benefit in combining medication with behavioral therapy to prevent migraines. They report:
“An interesting research study published in 2010 compared two groups of people who had frequent migraines. One group took a beta-blocker medicine alone. Another group took a beta-blocker but also had a course of behavioural migraine management (BMM). BMM included education about migraine, helping to identify and manage migraine triggers, relaxation techniques and stress management. After a number of months the group of people who took the beta-blocker plus BMM had, on average, significantly fewer migraines compared with the group who took beta-blockers alone.”
This approach incorporates the comprehensive pain management fundamentals that are so important for treating the patient’s mind and body.
29. Use acupuncture
This ancient healing method may actually help reduce pain from migraines and prevent future ones from occurring. Find a qualified acupuncturist in your area to learn more about how it can help with your migraines.
30. Learn more about nerve blocks
Other potential migraine treatments include nerve blocks, which are injections that stop nerves from firing off signals of pain. This is a minimally-invasive procedure with few side effects. Nerve blocks that are associated with migraine prevention include occipital nerve blocks and SPG blocks. You can learn more about how these nerve blocks are performed in our post on the subject.
31. Try neuromodulation
Neuromodulation techniques may be more invasive than nerve blocks, but they can provide longer-lasting relief that prevents migraine occurrence. Electrodes are implanted under the skin to alter nerve activity that’s causing pain. The following video talks about one patient’s experience with neuromodulation for migraines, while our longer post on spinal cord stimulation has an in-depth look on this treatment approach.
32. Consider Botox injections
Botox injections aren’t just for face lifts. YourCareEverywhere reports:
“In 2010, the FDA approved using Botox injections to treat chronic migraines. The shots may turn off pain receptors. A headache specialist — not someone who gives Botox for cosmetic reasons — will inject the drug in your scalp and neck in about 15 minutes. You’ll have to come back in three months for another treatment. Although the shots are only mildly painful, the side effects of botox can include temporarily blurred vision and speech. If you have recurrent severe migraines, the shots may be covered by health insurance.”
33. Learn more about t-SNS, or Cefaly
For those who are actively looking for how to prevent migraines, the buzz is around a nerve stimulation device that stimulates branches of the trigeminal nerve in the face. The Mayo Clinic reports about this device, the Cefaly:
“This device (Cefaly), similar to a headband with attached electrodes, was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a preventive therapy for migraines. In research, those that used the device experienced fewer migraines.”
The following video shows how Cefaly works.
How to prevent migraines going forward
Because migraines are so different than headaches, one Migraine Awareness Month initiative is for sufferers to use the term migraine instead of headache. Making this distinction will help the general public learn the difference between headaches and migraines, and can help towards more treatment options (and possible cures!) for the future. Until then, these 33 tips for how to prevent migraines can go a long way towards reducing their impact on your daily life.
To learn more about the interventional procedures discussed here, click the button below to find a pain doctor in your area who can talk to you about your options.