Take back control: 8 practical ways to manage your migraines

Living with migraine can feel like an anxious waiting game as you remember the agony of previous episodes and worry about the next.

A recent survey found 60% of people had given up trying to find relief from their attacks, leaving them with a fear that never subsides.1

Tame Your Migraine™, which is backed by former actress, author and cookery presenter, Lisa Faulkner, aims to motivate people living with migraine to speak to their doctor – even if they have already done so previously – to see if there could be more effective ways to manage their condition.

Discussing her own experience of migraine, Lisa said: ‘As someone that endures at least two migraines a month, with each lasting for a few days, I often find it frustrating that there isn’t more recognition and understanding around the impact that this disabling condition can have.’ 

Migraine is a complex neurological condition that can leave people incapacitated by the symptoms 

Migraine is unique to each individual, and it can be difficult to understand your own experience let alone explain the impact of it to others.

To help, the Tame Your Migraine website is home to an easy online assessment tool, which asks the user a series of short questions to provide a personalised migraine impact report upon completion. 

This can then be downloaded and taken to your next healthcare appointment. The report is designed to offer a detailed overview of the impact migraine is having on your life to your doctor, and guide you to have a more effective conversation about how your migraine can be managed.

To coincide with Migraine Awareness Week, we’ve researched eight practical ways to help manage your migraine. While many people are able to find some relief from simple lifestyle changes that can be incorporated into a daily routine, this does depend on the severity and frequency of migraine you experience.

1. Identify your triggers

Keeping a migraine diary is a useful way of seeing if you can identify a consistent trigger.2

Record details like the date and time of the migraine attack, what you were doing, when it began, how long it lasted, the symptoms you experienced and whether you took any medication.2

It can also be useful to include other information like what you had to eat and how long you slept the night before.2

Chronic migraine can be extremely disruptive to daily routines because of the frequency of attacks 

Combining an awareness of your triggers with your current treatment plan can help to guide conversations with your doctor about possible ways to lower the frequency of your migraine attacks.2

If your attacks are particularly frequent, you could have a condition called chronic migraine. 

This is defined as experiencing more than 15 days of headaches per month over a three month period, of which more than eight include other symptoms associated with migraine, such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.3

2. Come up with an ‘attack plan’

Sensing the first signs of a migraine, such as increased sensitivity to light, can be distressing, especially if you have gone through debilitating attacks in the past.

Planning a routine to deal with your migraine can help you achieve a greater sense of control and reduce the disruption to your daily life.

There are a number of ways that can help to manage your migraine, from hot and cold packs that are readily available from pharmacies4 through to warning friends and family about your migraine symptoms so they know what to expect and don’t disturb you when you are trying to rest.

If you are liable to attacks when at work or regularly call in sick due to a migraine, you may need to speak to your manager to discuss a suitable strategy.5

Migraine is a complex and painful neurological condition.6 Whether you are starting a new job or have been in your role for a while, you should not feel to blame if you are unable to work.  

3. Manage your treatment 

Treatment is often key to controlling your migraine, but always involve your doctor or specialist to make sure you are only taking what could be effective for you.

Over-the-counter painkillers can help to reduce symptoms.7

Many people living with migraine can be successfully managed by their GP. However, if you experience frequent and/or severe migraine attacks, and you’ve not managed to get your symptoms under control with your current treatment, a referral to a specialist may be appropriate.8

4. Strike out stress

Stress is one of the most common triggers of migraine, so trying to control how much you are exposed to it can be a real help.10

Having to cancel plans last minute can be a major source of stress for many people, creating feelings of letting people down or missing important occasions. Talk openly to friends, family and work colleagues about your experiences with migraine to help them better understand the true impact. If work is a major cause of stress, don’t be afraid to speak to your manager about how they can support you better.

Small lifestyle changes can help control stress; other options include trying methods like cognitive behavioural therapy or mindfulness.11

However, if you are feeling unable to cope with your condition, don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor in the first instance; they should be able to recommend further help and guidance. 

5. Get a jog on!

Regular exercise can reduce the frequency and severity of migraine in some people by reducing stress and improving your overall health.12

People with chronic migraine can often feel tired for up to a week after an attack.13

The sudden and exhausting nature of migraine may mean exercise isn’t high up your list of priorities, but one way to tackle this is to try incorporating small steps into your daily routine such as getting off the bus a few stops early and walking instead. 

Some people may get migraine when they exercise, possibly as a reaction due to lack of sufficient fluids before or after exercising.12

Instead of cutting it out altogether, you can reduce the risk by making sure you are properly hydrated, eat an hour and a half before starting and do a proper warm up.12

You could also consider gentler workouts such as yoga and tai chi, which can help relax your mind.15,16

6. Open your eyes to sleep hygiene

Most of us know about the importance of sleep, so being told simply to get more when this is already a struggle can be very frustrating.17 This is particularly true if your migraine happens at night.

The key is consistency, so try and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including at weekends.18

Keep naps short, otherwise they could interrupt your sleep later on.

Try and make your bedroom as restful as possible, with comfortable bedding and no distractions like a TV or smartphone +7
Try and make your bedroom as restful as possible, with comfortable bedding and no distractions like a TV or smartphone

When you are approaching bedtime, do your best to unwind with relaxing activities like reading a book or having a warm shower.

Exercise during the day can promote better sleep, but try and avoid intense workouts right before going to bed. Heavy meals, alcohol and caffeine should also be avoided.17

A lack of sleep can be a trigger for chronic migraine as well as milder forms of the condition, so constructing a healthy night time routine can reduce the frequency of attacks, if sleep deprivation is a defined trigger.3

7. Eat well and often

As with sleeping, the most important aspect of eating while living with migraine is consistency.18,19

Chronic migraine in particular can be very disruptive to your daily routine because of the frequency of attacks.

Try to avoid skipping breakfast, and eat little and often throughout the day to keep your energy levels up, choosing healthy snacks will help to keep your blood sugar levels constant.19

Carrying a water bottle with you is often a good way to make sure you stay well hydrated.20

It’s useful to note what you eat in your migraine diary to get an idea about whether how and what you eat affects you.14 +7
It’s useful to note what you eat in your migraine diary to get an idea about whether how and what you eat affects you.14

8. Don’t give up! Go back to your doctor if your existing treatment is not effective

Migraine can rob you of your sense of control – 62% of people surveyed living with migraine said they often feel helpless or hopeless due to the condition.21

If you have chronic migraine, the impact on your wellbeing can be particularly significant.

To help make an informed` decision, use the Tame Your Migraine assessment tool, which asks a series of short questions to produce a downloadable personalised migraine impact report that can be taken to your doctor or specialist.

It also comes with an appointment checklist to help guide the conversation with your healthcare professional and ensure the most appropriate treatment and care for you is being offered.

While it may not be possible to banish migraine altogether, there may be more effective ways to manage your condition.

Tame Your Migraine encourages you to have a new conversation with your doctor about taking back some of the control that migraine steals from you.

What is chronic migraine and how common is it? 

Chronic migraine is estimated to affect less than one percent of the population, which in the UK works out at around 610,000 people.3

People with chronic migraine experience more than 15 headache days every month over a three-month period, of which more than eight of these include other symptoms associated with migraine.3

These symptoms can include nausea and increased sensitivity to light and sound, as well as other symptoms like sweating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and the feeling of becoming very hot or very cold.13 

Not everyone will go through these other symptoms though, some may experience them without having a headache and they vary from person to person.13

People with migraine who have fewer than 15 headache days per month have what is called episodic migraine.3

The symptoms of both forms of migraine usually last between four hours and three days.13

Attacks can be preceded by temporary warnings signs known as aura, which can include seeing flashing lights.13

Migraine runs in some families, indicating that certain people inherit a genetic predisposition towards it.10

Source: Dailymail.

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