It's no surprise that the amount of people experiencing migraines have skyrocketed during the pandemic. From juggling multiple kids at home to remote schooling, people have had to manage more with less routine, causing increased stress – which in turn can induce the onset of migraines. The Migraine Research Foundation report that migraine occurrence is up 12 percent, in both existing and new migraine sufferers.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraines affect over 39 million men, women, and children in the United States and is the sixth most disabling illness in the world. Dr. Dawn Buse, licensed psychologist and clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says that migraines impact all aspects of life: “The symptoms are terribly debilitating. It is hard to work, go to school, and care for your children.”
Migraine is a reoccurring disorder that can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. People who experience migraines can also experience light and sound sensitivity, nausea, and/or vomiting, according to Dr. Sarah Vollbracht, a headache program director in the Division of Multi-Specialty Neurology at Columbia University. And left untreated, symptoms can worsen.
Your doctor can recommend medication to help treat your migraines, but there are also things you can do to help mitigate their onset before they occur. Here, Buse and Vollbracht share some options.
Migraine treatment is more than just medication. Because people with migraines have hyperactive nervous systems, it’s helpful to keep the nervous system calm and happy, according to Buse. She suggests managing a balanced lifestyle through good sleep hygiene and staying hydrated.
Buse also suggests exercising regularly. “It does not have to be aerobic. It can be walking, yoga, playing with your dog. Just get moving,” says Buse. Following healthy lifestyle management can reduce the triggers that cause migraines.
Treating Other Conditions
Many migraine sufferers rely on medication to stop the migraine once it starts, but experts also recommend medications to treat other conditions as a preventive option. “There are various classes of oral preventative medications that we use," explains Vollbracht. "Blood pressure-lowering [medications], antidepressants, and anti-seizure medication have robust evidence as migraine preventatives."
Oral preventative medications are available by prescription. If you think oral medications would be a good option, you can discuss it with your general practitioner, who can determine whether a cost-effective generic medication is worth trying as a preventative option.
Biofeedback is a therapy that enables you to learn to recognize and control bodily responses, such as slowing down heart rate and breathing. During biofeedback, you sit in a quiet area and are connected to electrical sensors that read your heart and respiratory rate. Once the electrical sensors gather this information, the biofeedback programs guide you in virtual sessions that help you relax your muscles and practice mindful breathing, focusing on the inhale and exhale of each breath. Biofeedback sessions can help bring your body back to a calm state.
“Biofeedback is an effective strategy to help train your brain and reaction to certain stimuli,” says Vollbracht. Controlling these reactions can help minimize and reduce migraine symptoms and increase daily functioning.
Research conducted by the University of York shows that biofeedback has high efficacy rates: On its own, biofeedback can reduce migraines by 60 percent; when paired with medication, efficacy can jump from 50 to 75 percent, according to the study and the American Migraine Foundation.
Once, people hoping to try biofeedback might need to see a doctor in person; now, biofeedback apps including Flowly and Juva have helped people manage pain and anxiety from the convenience of their phones. Smartphones look at different metrics to determine your stress levels, including fingertip warmth and breathing rate.
Flowly offers virtual reality experiences that engage you in biofeedback and relaxation therapy. Through the app, you can monitor and adjust your breath and keep track of your progress with each session. Biofeedback apps including Flowly are backed by science and are user-friendly.
Juva, Flowly and other apps are available to the public and cost ranges from $5 to $30 per month, depending on your plan.
Research conducted by researchers from Harvard University and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center shows that vitamins are effective for migraine and headache prevention. Vollbracht says “Vitamins such as vitamin B, as well as coenzyme Q10 and magnesium have evidence [that they help prevent] headaches,” says Vollbracht.
Vitamins, including coenzyme Q10 and magnesium, are available over-the-counter in pill form, with prices starting at $6.
When it comes to migraines, doctors like Buse often pinpoint muscle tension as a trigger. “Relaxing muscles and achieving general relaxation through various means is valuable in migraine management,” explains Buse. One way to release muscle tension is through meditation. Dr. Buse offers free meditation practices on her website. There are also meditation apps like Calm and Headspace that can help with relaxation.
From work to school to personal life, migraines affect almost every aspect of life. Buse and Vollbracht urge people living with migraines to seek treatment. “We have more effective treatments than any time before,” says Buse. “I would hope that no one would not seek help or care because they’re worried about costs. There are a bunch of options.”