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Headaches and Migraines this Holiday Season

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

KMOV Great Day St. Louis reached out to me for advice on preventing headaches and migraines this holiday season.

KMOV: What holiday activities trigger headaches/and why?

Dr. Smith: Simply put, most of them! The migraine brain is sensitizable and reacts to changes in the internal and external environment. In other words, the migraine brain likes stability, routine, and predictability. Stress, exhaustion, changes in diet, lack of exercise, changes in sensory exposures (bright or flashing lights, strong smells, cold weather, etc), travel, consumption of alcohol, changes in sleep patterns, and many other changes to routine are common in the holiday season. All of this may lead to increased risk of migraine attacks.

KMOV: How do you prevent them?

Dr. Smith: The best advice on reducing the risk of migraine attacks during the holiday season is: nurture your brain. By this I mean be healthy, pace yourself, and try to stay as close to your routine as usual. Don't stress out. Practice mindful relaxation and keep the important stuff front and center. Relax and enjoy family and friends as much as you can do safely. Don't overindulge in high carb meals or alcohol. Keep yourself hydrated. There are some foods to avoid: cheeses, some nuts, chocolates, pickled meats, foods high in MSG (flavor enhancers), and others. But it may be equally important to prioritize foods that are high in anti-oxidant and anti inflammatory chemicals. Things like green vegetables, berries, beans, peppers, fish and poultry are great for your brain. Don't get knocked off of your exercise routine (it's okay to cut back a little, but don't bail altogether). And make sure you are getting adequate rest. Your brain replenishes its neurotransmitters during sleep. If you are sleep deprived, this negatively impacts your migraines, moods, and energy levels. In short, enjoy the holiday season, but be good to yourself. Nothing will make your holiday more enjoyable than fewer migraine attacks!

And a quick word to the wise. Covid19 can present with headache. If you develop a headache that is different from your usual migraine attack or doesn't respond to your usually effective migraine medication, watch for other symptoms such as cough, congestion, shortness of breath fever, body aches, and fatigue. And get yourself checked out and tested if there is suspicion of possible infection.

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