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Published on April 19, 2017

woman with headache

8 ways to manage migraines and headaches

Making adjustments to your lifestyle is often the most effective way to prevent chronic headaches and migraines, according to Gundersen Health System headache and migraine specialists. Some of the most impactful changes include:

  1. Exercising regularly. Research shows that 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week can be as beneficial in preventing headaches as daily prescription medications. Exercise gets your heart rate up, increases endorphins (the body's natural pain fighter) and reduces stress.
  2. Get adequate sleep. Too much, too little or irregular sleep can cause headaches. Try for eight hours of quality sleep every night and follow regular sleep habits. Waking up without feeling refreshed is a sign you may have a sleeping disorder. In this case, talk with your provider about undergoing a sleep study.
  3. Eat regular, healthy meals. Eating 70 grams of protein (such as milk, lean meats, fish, eggs, soy, nuts, beans and lentils) throughout the day helps stabilize blood sugar and prevent headaches.
  4. Avoid trigger foods. Headaches can be triggered by some food additives, such as MSG (a flavor enhancer in processed, packaged and restaurant food), aspartame (an artificial sweetener in many “diet” foods and beverages), nitrates (in cured meats and canned foods) and tyramine (in red wine and aged cheeses).
  5. Take supplements, if appropriate.* A deficiency in some vitamins, including magnesium and vitamin D, can trigger headaches. Talk with your healthcare provider to see if taking either of these supplements may help you avoid headaches or migraines.
  6. Stay hydrated. Being low on water and electrolytes, which your body needs to function properly, can cause headaches. Women should drink about eight cups every day and men about 12 cups.
  7. Limit caffeine. Caffeine causes headaches by constricting blood vessels and interfering with sleep. Limit caffeine to no more than two servings (under 200 milligrams total) per day. If you consume a lot of caffeine, weaning yourself off slowly will help you avoid withdrawal symptoms, which, ironically, can include headaches.
  8. Manage stress. Try yoga, meditation, controlled breathing or counseling to help keep stress under control and prevent headaches.

If the above suggestions don't provide relief from headaches or migraines over time, be sure to talk to your doctor about other options. Untreated chronic headaches and migraines are not just painful. They're also hard on the brain.


*These supplements are generally safe in recommended doses, but they can interfere with some medications. Always talk with your doctor before taking any kind of supplements.

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Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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