‘Headache hygiene’ outlines best practices that help you take control of your symptoms

While there is no cure for migraine, a headache specialist can help design a treatment plan that addresses your symptoms with medications, non-pharmacological therapies, symptom management strategies or a combination of the three. Regardless of which treatment plan you find effective, taking steps to better understand the unique nature of your migraine and its symptoms will better equip you to avoid behaviors that may increase your risk of a migraine attack and lean on practices that have proven to provide you some relief. “Headache hygiene” refers to a series of behaviors and practices that many people find help them understand and manage their migraine. Dr. Cynthia Armand, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at the Montefiore Headache Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, spoke with AMF about how headache hygiene works, why it helps, and how you can implement its best practices into your everyday life.

Getting to know your migraine

Migraine is different for everyone, and the only way to truly understand the patterns, phases and symptoms of your migraine is to truly study your individuals experience with the disease. Dr. Armand says the best way to do this is by taking notes as often as possible in a headache diary. “As a neurologist specializing in headache conditions, one of the first things I tell all my patients is that they need to keep a diary,” she said. Make a note each day about the appearance or absence of any head pain or other symptoms, what the weather conditions were like that day, and your diet. Consistency is key, Dr. Armand says, because “over time, you’ll see that a pattern is going to emerge, and it’s that pattern that allows you to identify your triggers.”

Learning your migraine patterns

After weeks or months of careful tracking, you may notice that your migraine attacks tend to occur when it rains, or when the seasons are changing: this could be a clue that your migraine is influenced by barometric pressure, and can help your doctor identify treatment strategies that target that pattern. Some people find caffeine seems to trigger their migraine attacks, while others say that a cup of coffee can offer some relief: tracking your caffeine intake and your migraine symptom frequency consistently in your headache diary can help you identify how caffeine affects you, and adjust your behaviors accordingly. “If you think there may be a potential trigger—for example, something in your diet that may cause some sort of migraine—you can eliminate it for a month, and track that month in your headache diary,” Dr. Armand said. “If your headache improves, it’s probably the case; if you reintroduce it and your headaches worsen, then you’ve sealed the deal.”

Understanding the diet connection

While migraine patterns and triggers can vary widely from person to person, there are some key healthy behaviors that improve migraine symptoms for everyone: these are also a key component of practicing good headache hygiene, Dr. Armand said. While dietary triggers can vary from person to person (our Meal Planning Toolkit can help you find yours), eating a healthy, consistent and balanced diet reduces migraine susceptibility across the board, Dr. Armand said. Sleep deprivation is known to increase susceptibility to migraine attacks. “You want to make sure you get adequate amounts of sleep,” Dr. Armand said. “We do find that if individuals have had a rough day, and they don’t get enough sleep, they’re more likely to experience a migraine attack.”

Practicing healthy habits

Regular exercise has also proven to be helpful for people with migraine who can manage even mild, low-impact physical activity like yoga. “Anything that keeps you more in tune with your body, and with what’s happening inside your body, will help with both the physical aspects of migraine and carries an added bonus of stress relief and added relaxation,” Dr. Armand said. The final key component of good headache hygiene is consistent hydration. In fact, caffeine’s dehydrating effects are believed to contribute to its triggering effect for some people with migraine. “We know dehydration is the biggest, most potent trigger for migraine,” Dr. Armand said. “So hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! When it’s hot outside, when you’re inside and you’re using a heater—make sure that you drink seven to eight glasses of water a day.”

Listening to your body, maintaining an exercise routine that works for you and eating regular, nutritious meals may not seem like migraine-specific health advice. But for people living with migraine, who navigate an unpredictable, disabling disease every day, paying attention to your body’s signals and taking the best care of yourself that you can empowers you to better understand, predict and reduce your symptoms and attacks. To learn more about how headache hygiene can fit into your treatment plan, and to access free tools like our Meal Planning Toolkit to help you take control of your migraine, visit the American Migraine Foundation’s resource library.