DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I’m a 38-year-old woman, and I get migraine headaches occasionally, usually one every few months. I have a hard time functioning when I have a migraine. I don’t want to take medication for this problem if I don’t have to. Are there ways to prevent or treat migraine headaches without medication?
ANSWER: Even if you don’t get them very often, migraine headaches can have a big impact on your life. A number of lifestyle changes may help reduce how often you get migraines. But if they continue, talk with your doctor about other treatment options.
Migraine headaches involve moderate to severe pain that is often throbbing and typically affects one side of the head. The pain usually gets worse with exertion, such as climbing stairs. Additional symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound, also accompany a migraine attack. For some, a migraine is preceded by an aura, such as seeing spots or bright flashes of light, or feeling tingling or numbness on one side of the body.
About 38 to 40 million people in the U.S. have migraine. Many are women in their reproductive years. Hormones appear to play a role in migraine. Genetics seem to be connected to these headaches, too. About 60 to 70 percent of people who get migraine have one or more family members with a history of migraine headaches.
A variety of triggers can set off a migraine attack. Fasting and dehydration are common migraine triggers. Eating and drinking plenty of water throughout the day may help ward off some headaches. Getting enough sleep also is important. Lack of sleep has been shown to be closely associated with migraine attacks in some people. Six to eight hours of sleep a night appears to be about the right amount for adults. In many people, less than six hours of sleep is linked to more frequent headaches. Interestingly, sleeping more than eight hours may cause more headaches in some people, as well.