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This Month In Health
  • Life Under Compulsion
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  • Managing Migraine Triggers
    All you want is to be somewhere cool, quiet, and dark. Another migraine has come on, your head is pounding, and you feel sick to your stomach. You wonder if it’s because of something you ate or drank or the recent stress you’re dealing with. Whatever the cause, you just want your headache to go away. Read >>
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    Inflammation is a good thing when your body’s using it to fight off infection, stress, or exposure to harmful chemicals. But sometimes your immune system overreacts and triggers inflammation in healthy tissue. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) occurs when chronic inflammation affects the digestive system. Read on to learn about one of the most frustrating types of IBD, Crohn’s disease. Read >>

Managing Migraine Triggers

Wonder what could be causing your migraines? Here are a few clues.

All you want is to be somewhere cool, quiet, and dark. Another migraine has come on, your head is pounding, and you feel sick to your stomach. You wonder if it’s because of something you ate or drank or the recent stress you’re dealing with. Whatever the cause, you just want your headache to go away.

Migraine headaches are the result of changes in the brain’s blood vessels. When the vessels expand, chemicals are released that produce inflammation and pain. Migraines can last anywhere from four hours to three days. Some people experience them daily, others monthly or once a year.

Most of the time migraines run in the family. If a family member suffers from migraines, you’re more likely to as well. Common migraines are more mild and widespread than classic migraines—severe headaches often accompanied by an aura (a visual disturbance of lights, flashes, blind spots, or shapes).

Each person has different triggers for migraines. What bothers one person may not affect another. Here are a few of the most common.

Foods

You enjoyed a yummy meal at a Chinese restaurant and now you feel a headache coming on. What could be the cause? Unfortunately, many people are sensitive to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a chemical food additive frequently used in Asian foods and other processed, packaged foods to enhance flavor.

Other food triggers include some of your favorites—chocolate, nuts, alcohol, coffee, processed meats, and aged cheese. If a specific food is the cause, you’ll feel the headache come on within 12 to 24 hours of consumption. Drink wine with dinner and you may wake up with a pounding headache.

The best way to determine your food triggers is to keep a food diary until you’ve had about 20 migraines. Such a record will give you a clear picture of what’s causing your headaches. Remove possible triggers from your diet for a few weeks and then slowly add them back in as a test. Keep in mind that for women, certain foods may only trigger a migraine during their menstrual cycle.

Skipping Meals

You were busy and worked straight through your lunch break. Now you’re suffering a terrible headache. Missing a meal or not drinking enough are other common migraine triggers. This is seen in folks who fast during holidays like Yom Kippur or Ramadan and end up getting headaches. If you discover skipping meals brings on pain, make it your habit to eat three main meals or five smaller meals at consistent times each day.

Stress

Your finances are tight and your car is in the shop for repairs. It’s no wonder you’ve got a migraine. While migraines are different from tension headaches, they can still be caused by physical or emotional stress. Many migraine sufferers believe stress to be their number one trigger. Stress may also make migraines worse, last longer, or occur more frequently. Sometimes the migraine doesn’t attack until after the stress has passed. Various theories account for the stress-migraine connection. It could be that stress increases the release of proteins that cause brain blood vessels to expand or it could be due to fluctuating levels of stress hormones.

Hormones

Migraines are a negative side effect some women experience while taking birth control pills. At the end of the pill cycle when estrogen levels decrease, a headache is triggered.

Many women not on the pill also get migraines right before their period. Called menstrual migraines, these headaches are also connected to fluctuating hormone levels.