A migraine headache is an intense, throbbing, moderate to severe headache, usually on one side of the head. It usually is around the eyes. It may last as long as several hours to 4 days and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The frequency can be as often as several times per week or as infrequent as once a year. A minority of migraine headache patients have an "aura" that precedes the pounding headache. The aura is described as bright spots of light, zig-zag lines and/or temporary visual loss. The sense of smell and taste may be affected at this time as well. There may also be numbness/tingling in the hands or face, speech difficulty, weakness in your arm or leg and mental confusion. The aura may last a few minutes to 1/2 hr and is then followed by the headache.

What Triggers a Migraine Headache?

Triggers can include:

  • Stress and/or tension
  • Hormonal changes: menstrual cycles, pregnancy, oral contraceptives
  • Fatigue
  • Missing a meal (causes low blood sugar)
  • Alcohol intake
  • Certain foods: chocolate, cheeses, yogurt, nuts, MSG, nitrates and nitrites (hot dogs, bacon, sausage, lunch meats) and caffeine
  • Glaring or flickering lights
  • Weather changes
Increased Risk Factors include:
  • Family history of migraines
  • Smoking

Treatments for Migraine Headaches

Preventive measures include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Proper sleep
  • Eating regularly and don't skip meals
  • Avoid stress when possible
  • Avoid those foods that trigger your migraines

Medical treatment includes:

  • There are several very effective prescription medications currently available from your doctor that will eliminate your migraine after it has begun. They are available in tablet form as well as a single dose nasal spray. They do not cause drowsiness. These medications allow you to continue your work or daily activities without being disrupted from a headache.
  • Other suggestions include applying a cold pack or cloth to your head and lie down in a quiet, dark area to rest. Don't try to read and avoid odors such as those from cooking or from tobacco.
  • Keeping a food diary of foods that you have eaten prior to your migraine may help you to identify those triggers. Keeping track of other possible contributing factors may also help you to avoid migraine headaches.

Headache Diet

Most headaches are not caused by food sensitivities.

However, the following foods are the most likely ones to cause headaches:

  • Aged hard cheese - parmesan vs. cottage or cream cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine - coffee, tea, cola
  • Nuts
  • MSG - Chinese foods, and many processed foods
  • Nitrites and Nitrates - luncheon meats, i.e., ham and hot dogs
  • Alcohol - especially wine

Headache Diary

In order to avoid the causes of your headaches, it will help to keep a headache diary in order to recognize and pinpoint the causes.

On a large desktop calendar, chart the following…

  • 1. Menses: number of days, i.e 1-5
  • 2. Severity: 1 thru 10, 10 being most severe
  • 3. Time of day headache developed, and duration - (i.e. 8 am, 4 pm)
  • 4. Food: most recent meal, beverage, or snacks before the onset of headache
  • 5. Anxiety/stress level: 1 thru 10, especially 1 - several days before onset of headache
  • 6. Quality of sleep the night before: a good or disturbed night’s sleep
  • 7. Weather changes: yes or leave blank
  • 8. Illness: yes with diagnosis or leave blank
  • 9. Medications: “out of the ordinary”