If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from migraines, here's a three-step plan to help you manage them.

Step 1: Is your headache a migraine?

Migraines are characterized by intense, throbbing or pulsating pain, usually on one side of the head. Migraine headaches can last from half an hour to several hours, sometimes even days. Nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound or odors are common in people with a migraine. Some people also experience visual disturbances, called auras, which may include spots, dots, jagged lines, flashing lights or disruptions in taste, smell or touch.

Step 2: Learn the “triggers”

The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although many individuals with migraine headaches can identify triggers that may cause or worsen a headache. Avoiding these triggers may help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. Possible triggers may include:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Changes in the weather
  • Caffeine (too much or too little)
  • Chocolate or alcohol
  • Lack of sleep or too much sleep
  • Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle
  • Skipping meals
  • Foods containing nitrates (e.g., lunchmeats, hot dogs, etc.)
  • Foods containing tyramine (e.g., aged cheeses, smoked fish, etc.)
  • Foods containing monosodium glutamate (e.g., most diet or “light” soft drinks)

Step 3: Get the right treatment

There are two types of treatment options for migraine headaches. Most commonly, over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are used. If those don't relieve migraine symptoms, prescription drugs called triptans are an alternative. Talk with your doctor about the right treatment for your symptoms.

Find help for that headache!

Migraines are a very common condition that can dramatically affect the quality of your life. Fortunately, your doctor can help make sure you're doing everything you can to limit their effect on you.

To find a doctor or speak to a nurse, call Consult-A-Nurse® at (951) 788-3463, 24 hours a day.

Sources: JAMA.AMA-ASSN.org, NINDS.NIH.gov