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Published on April 19, 2017

woman with headache

8 ways for you to manage migraines and headaches

Lifestyle changes are often the most effective means to prevent chronic headaches and migraines. Le Sedlacek, APNP, Neurology, who specializes in treating and preventing headaches and migraines at Gundersen Health System, suggests to her patients that they practice "what you learned in 8th grade health class," such as:

Le Sedlacek, APNP, Gundersen Neurology

Le Sedlacek, APNP, Gundersen Neurology

  1. Regular exercise – "In a study, 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week was as beneficial in preventing headaches as daily prescription medications," reports Le. "Exercise gets your heart rate up, increases endorphins (the body's natural pain fighter) and reduces stress."
  2. Adequate sleep – Too much, too little or irregular sleep can cause headaches. Get eight hours of good quality sleep each night and follow regular sleep habits. "If you wake without feeling refreshed, you may have a sleeping disorder. If that's the case, talk with your provider about getting a sleep study," Le encourages.
  3. Eat regular, healthy meals – Le recommends, "70g of protein (such as milk, lean meats, fish, eggs, soy, nuts, beans and lentils) spread out over the day will help keep blood sugar stable."
  4. Avoid trigger foods – Some food additives may trigger headaches including 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. Supplements* – A deficiency in some vitamins, including magnesium and vitamin D, can trigger headaches. "Try a daily supplement of 400-500mg of magnesium," Le suggests. "Also, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. While 30-100ng/ml is considered normal, for headache prevention your level should be at 60 or above."
  6. Stay hydrated – Being low on the water and electrolytes your body needs to function can cause headaches. So drink up. Women should drink about eight cups and men about 12 cups to replace what the body loses every day.
  7. Limit caffeine – Caffeine causes headaches by constricting blood vessels and interfering with sleep. Le cautions, "If you drink a lot of caffeinated coffee or soft drinks, it's best to wean yourself off to avoid withdrawal symptoms which, ironically, can include headaches. Limit caffeine to no more than two servings (under 200mg total) a day."
  8. Manage stress – Try exercise, yoga, meditation, controlled breathing or counseling. "Untreated chronic headaches and migraines are hard on the brain," warns Le. "So if you try these things and you don't see improvement with time, talk to your doctor."

*These supplements are generally safe in recommended doses, but they caninterfere with some medications. So 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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