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Tips to ease a migraine hangover

When a migraine's characteristic throbbing subsides, the relief is immense. But for many people who suffer from these potentially debilitating headaches on a regular basis, their distress does not end when the pain subsides. Instead, a distinct phase of migraine known as the postdrome causes them to feel achy, exhausted, dazed, and confused — symptoms that are eerily similar to those of an entirely different condition.

This cluster of post-migraine symptoms, dubbed the "migraine hangover," is remarkably common, occurring after up to 80% of migraine attacks, according to research published in Neurology. According to Dr. Paul Rizzoli, clinical director of the Graham Headache Center at Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital, scientists are increasingly focusing on this previously underrecognized aspect of migraine.

"Because patients are unaware that postdrome symptoms are a normal part of migraines, they come up with creative ways to describe them," explains Dr. Rizzoli. "They feel washed out, their head feels hollow, or they feel like they have a hangover when they weren't drinking." Prior to recent years, science had not paid much attention to this aspect of the syndrome, but it is a natural progression from focusing on the overall problem.

The four migraine phases
The typical migraine is characterised by severe head pain, nausea, brain fog, and heightened sensitivity to light and sound, among other symptoms. Migraines affect nearly 16% of Americans, with women being affected nearly twice as often as men. Additionally, severe headaches are among the leading causes of emergency room visits.

Migraine headaches can include four distinct phases, each with its own set of symptoms and lasting from hours to days. During the pre-pain prodrome and aura phases, you may notice changes in your vision, extreme irritability, trouble speaking, or numbness and tingling. The headache itself can feel like a drill is going through your head.

The hangover is marked by persistent migraine symptoms.
Dr. Rizzoli says that in comparison, one to two days of postdrome symptoms may seem mild. But the lingering dizziness, fatigue, and stiff neck can be just as incapacitating as the headache itself. As migraine is believed to act as a type of electrical storm that activates neurons in the brain, Dr. Rizzoli suggests that a migraine hangover could be the result of "some circuits being electrically or neurochemically exhausted." "It just takes time for the brain to return to normal function or even replace some depleted chemicals."

However, he continues, there is still much to learn about migraine postdrome, and studies have not consistently found a connection between variables like the kind of migraine medication taken and the length of any subsequent hangover.

Tips to alleviate a migraine headache
Following these steps on a regular basis may help you avoid persistent migraine symptoms:

Drink plenty of water.

By maintaining regular eating and sleeping patterns and reducing stress, you can prevent headaches.

After the headache pain has subsided, if possible, try to lighten your load for the next 24 hours.

Stop taking pain medication as soon as the headache has subsided.

For people with migraine hangovers who can't get back to normal activities even after the migraine pain goes away, doctors sometimes give them medicines that are usually used to treat memory loss, depression, or seizures. Some of these medications have been observed to alleviate postdrome syndrome and prevent headaches, despite the fact that they differ from typical migraine treatments.

Dr. Rizzoli advises, "Think of the headache you just experienced as if you had run a marathon or participated in another stressful activity." "Your body requires rest, which is distinct from remaining in bed with the lights off." "Relax, but maintain functionality."

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:
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