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Suffer from migraines? Tips to help fight them off

February 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Severe forms of chronic headaches affect millions of Americans and the pain can be debilitating. Headache sufferers may be hurting themselves and not even realize it, but the solution for some may be simple.

Knowing which kind of headaches you get can help you figure out how best to treat it.

Tension headaches feel like pressing pain that pulsates across the forehead, at the temples or the back of the head. Cluster headaches are not as common and usually the pain can be centered around one eye. Rebound headaches, caused by overuse of over-the-counter pain relievers, are quite common and can be felt in varying areas of the head. Doctors say rebounding can also occur in a person who suffers migraines, where the pain is often on one side of the head and the common triggers are stress, certain foods and caffeine.

A morning cup of java gives 46-year-old Sara Beck a sense of well-being.

"A warm cup of coffee in my hand in the morning kind of, it's sort my mediation of what I'm going to do for the rest of the day, so I can't get rid of it," she said.

She won't get rid of it even though doctors told her caffeine triggers her headaches. Beck is the classic migraine sufferer; she usually feels the pain on one side of her head. She gets sensitive to light and has trouble seeing.

Family medicine expert Dr. Juan Silva says the opening and widening of cranial blood vessels trigger some migraines. For relief, people turn to caffeine or pain medication.

"You feel like you're getting relief of headaches but it's a false reassurance," said Dr. Silva.

Beck noticed her own vicious cycle.

"It's the stress and the coffee and not stopping to sort of take care of myself," she said.

To address the problem of blood vessel function, Dr. Silva recommends three daily supplements: 300 milligrams of magnesium glycinate, 250 milligrams of riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2) and 300 milligrams of coenzyme Q10. The goal is to not rely on caffeine or pain meds when a headache hits. But if you really have to take something, Dr. Silva recommends Tylenol or sumatriptans.

"You can take something acutely but the moral to the story is really not taking it every day," he advised.

Beck cut her coffee consumption down to a cup a day and she's getting half the migraines she used to. Managing stress also helps.

"For me it's the breathing, it's like getting blood into my brain and relaxing," she said.

One note of caution, if you're taking coumadin or any type of blood thinners, Dr. Silva says it's not a good idea to take coenzyme Q10. And always talk to your doctor before you start on any type of supplements.