Migraine Headache: Separating Myths from Facts

May 31, 2007
Volume 0, Issue 0

How to Avoid Common Misconceptions

There are 29.5 million migraine sufferers in the United States, but many people who are not affected by this legitimate health condition, as well as some of those who suffer from it, continue to believe many commonly held myths about migraine.

"Because migraine is an often misunderstood disease, it is important to dispel myths that may contribute to the confusion," said National Headache Foundation Executive Director Suzanne E. Simons. "It is our hope that this effort will further the understanding that migraine is a neurobiologic disease."

The following list of commonly held myths and their actual facts can help dispel misperceptions and provide help to those suffering from migraine. This list was prepared by experts at the National Headache Foundation.

Myth: Caffeine cannot help relieve a migraine.

Fact: For certain migraine sufferers, caffeine is a migraine inhibitor, for others it is a trigger.

Tip: Keep a headache diary to help determine whether caffeine helps or hurts your migraine. Caffeine is found naturally, and as an additive, in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, certain soft drinks, and in some pain-relieving and acute migraine medications.

Myth: Migraines are not trigged by stress.

Fact: Stress is a commonly recognized trigger of migraines. Stress can be physical or emotional. It can be good or bad. It is an unavoidable part of modern life.

Tip: Keep in mind that events causing emotional stress can trigger a migraine headache. Migraine sufferers are thought to have highly sensitized brains. In times of emotional stress, certain chemicals are released that provoke the vascular changes that can cause a migraine headache. Factors related to stress include anxiety, worry, shock, depression, excitement, and mental fatigue. After a stressful period you may have a letdown that can, in itself, trigger a migraine headache.

Myth: Regular exercise may not help reduce migraine frequency.

Fact: For those who suffer from chronic, recurring migraines, exercise can either provoke an attack or lessen the frequency and severity of these headaches.

Tip: If exercise or physical strain induce a headache in you, it is important that you see a healthcare provider. Maintaining a regular exercise program can reduce the number of your headaches and contribute to your overall good health.

Myth: Dietary supplements cannot be helpful in migraine treatment. Fact: Those suffering from frequent migraines may have a low magnesium level. Magnesium has a relaxant effect on smooth muscle, such as in blood vessels.

Tip: Taking daily supplementation of 500 to 750 mg of magnesium increases the body's magnesium level. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) assists nerve cells in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy-producing substance that is essential for many chemical reactions to occur in the body. High doses of riboflavin (recommended daily dosages is 400 mg) may reverse cells' "energy crisis" during migraine attacks.

Myth: Migraines are not triggered by a lack of sleep.

Fact: Migraine can be triggered by lack of sleep. Go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up the same time each morning, including on weekends. This maintains the body's natural circadian rhythm.

Myth: Migraines cannot be trigged by exposure to smoke, odors, or perfume.

Fact: Certain fumes and vapors can initiate a migraine headache, especially in those who are susceptible to migraine. Perfumes are also often a culprit.

Tip: Try to avoid being in public places that are smoke-filled or poorly ventilated; being in such a place can result in the onset of a migraine. Learn if any perfumes trigger a migraine for you and if so, avoid such perfumes.

Myth: Migraines do not run in families

Fact: Migraines can be hereditary.

Tip: If 1 of your parent has migraines, you have a 50% chance of having migraines. If both your parents have them, the risk is 75% that you will develop migraines. If even a distant relative in your family has migraines, there is a 20% chance that you will also have migraines. Find out the migraine history of your family, to see what your risk is and what this means for you.

This information was provided by the National Headache Foundation. For more information on headache causes and treatments, visit www.headaches.org or call 1-888-NHF-5552 (M-F, 9 am to 5 pm, CST).