Can I predict my migraine attack?

The signs and signals of an oncoming migraine attack don’t have to be a mystery

What if you could predict and stop a migraine attack? What are the early symptoms of migraine? Read on for tips to stopping migraine before it takes hold.

Migraine is a neurological disease that causes an array of symptoms including pulsing or throbbing pain, sensitivity to light or sound, and nausea.  There are about 47 million Americans with migraine, which is the most common disabling form of headache. Almost three times as many women (18%) are affected by migraine as men (6%). There are likely many more who are undiagnosed but experience migraine, as people commonly self-diagnose migraine as a sinus headache. Researchers have not pinpointed the exact cause of migraine, but it is thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity that affects nerves, chemical balance and blood vessels in the brain.

How can I tell if I’m getting a migraine attack?

There are four stages of migraine, and it can take between eight and 72 hours to move through them. You may not have symptoms of all four, although the obvious hallmark of migraine is a debilitating headache.

The four phases of migraine and the symptoms are:

  • Prodrome: This is the earliest stage and may include mood changes (depression or excitement), nausea, fatigue, food cravings or a feeling of something “off.”
  • Aura: This stage includes visual changes like bright lights, sparkles or dots in the field of vision. You also may experience changes in taste or smell.
  • Headache: The onset of headache pain can include sensitivity to light, noise and smells; nausea and vomiting; dizziness; blurred vision; and other severe symptoms.
  • Postdrome: Also known as “migraine hangover,” this final stage can include depression, mood changes and brain fog.

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Headache School, presented by the Norton Neuroscience Institute Headache Center, is a series of five on-demand video presentations by Headache Center specialists. The series is designed to inform new and existing patients about why they should see a specialist and what treatments are available.

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What causes migraine?

Tracking your migraine symptoms for a period of time can help you identify your triggers, according to Mandy J. Whitt, M.D., a headache medicine physician with Norton Neuroscience Institute. The most commonly reported triggers are:

  • Stress
  • Menstruation (your period)
  • Sleep changes
  • Skipping meals
  • Changes in weather
  • Diet (typically alcohol)
  • Headache medication overuse

How can I prevent migraine attack?

There are many lifestyle adjustments that can prevent migraine, such as:

  • Eating a regular, balanced diet and paying attention to foods that trigger migraine
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not smoking
  • Exercising regularly and gently
  • Reducing stress, using meditation or relaxation techniques
  • Good sleep hygiene
  • Massage, biofeedback or physical therapy

“I encourage everyone to find a headache tracking tool they will use,” Dr. Whitt said. “There are online versions, apps or even paper ones.”

Headache trackers help you see overall patterns in your headaches.

“Over time, you will see things jump out at you,” Dr. Whitt said. “You might see you always get migraine symptoms right before a change in the weather. Or after you drink a certain beverage. These tools can help you better predict your migraine attacks and help us better treat them.”

Take a short quiz to see if you might need to see a specialist about your headaches.

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