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dealing with triggers for migraines

Are Stress and Insomnia Causing Your Migraines?

*This post is sponsored, but this journey and all opinions are 100% my own.*

We are now in the 9th month of the pandemic. As an ER physician, I can tell you firsthand that I am seeing and treating more patients complaining of chronic and crippling headaches and migraines, stomach aches, chest pain, and anxiety. In particular, I’ve noticed more complaints of headaches and migraines during this stressful year.

So what are some triggers for migraines that we’re experiencing more often this year?

In addition to a crazy election and the pandemic stresses of just keeping our families healthy, other stresses on our minds and our bodies are new this year. With our children virtual learning and our kitchens becoming our workspaces, many of us are spending more and more time behind a screen, causing eye strain and headaches. We may be skipping meals or just not eating and exercising right due to gym closures and food availability. Our bodies and minds are stretched to the max already this year, and now we add the holiday season in full swing.

Can we agree that we are all feeling some major stress?!

For many people, that stress is manifesting in physical symptoms, including migraines.

Migraines affect 1 out of 7 Americans annually and is a leading cause of outpatient and ER visits. A survey recently conducted by Med-IQ, concluded that migraine sufferers classify stress and insomnia as two of their main triggers for migraines.

So with the recent election, ongoing pandemic, and holiday season, is stress and insomnia affecting you more often?

Triggers for Migraines and How to Cope and Seek Help

With so many women and adolescents suffering from migraines during the stress of this pandemic, the obstacle becomes how to effectively manage a migraine when you are fearful of going to the emergency room or doctor.

During this time, it can be difficult to access doctors and get the right help you need to feel better. When you suffer from a migraine it can be completely debilitating. We want to make sure you have a road map and resources to help you get through this difficult time.

So today, we are going to break down the common questions about triggers for migraines and treatment options. Our goal is to give you some tips and tools to help manage migraines and the onset of an attack.

So let’s answer two of the most common questions we’ve received this year about migraines:

1. I have a horrible migraine! Is it safe to go to the doctor?

Absolutely! And I encourage it.

Doctors’ offices are taking extreme measures to ensure your safety during this pandemic. If you have any doubt at all, call your office ahead of time to see what safety measures they are implementing.

Do not ignore your symptoms.

Many people are coming to the ER later than they should. Early intervention is key with any medical conditions but especially when dealing with migraines. A proper prevention plan can help decrease the amount of migraine attacks you have thereby decreasing your exposure to COVID-19 at your doctor’s office.

2. How do I know if the headache I have is a migraine and not related to the stress I am experiencing from COVID-19?

During this time, many people are not only neglecting themselves but attributing new symptoms to the stress of the pandemic. It’s important to have your doctor evaluate any symptom that becomes persistent or progressive in nature.

Many individuals suffer from migraine for years without getting a formal diagnosis or treatment plan. Tele-medicine has become an amazing resource to help get your medical concerns and needs addressed while being safe at home.

A migraine is a disease that will not go away without a proper treatment plan. Unfortunately, there is no cure for migraines. Developing a trusting relationship with your doctor to effectively treat new onset migraines and prevent future attacks from occurring is key.

That being said, by definition, a migraine is moderate to severe head pain, often worse on one side, with light and/or sound sensitivity and stomach issues, like nausea.

When you have a headache, if you have two of the three symptoms listed below, you are more than likely experiencing a migraine:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Inability to function (you want to lie down)
  • Nausea (not wanting to eat)

Remember to Always Do Your Own Research

You should 100% involve your doctor in your treatment plan. But you don’t have to solely rely on your doctor’s research. It’s important for you to know your own triggers for migraines and to understand which medications may work better for you.

Not all medications or treatment plans work the same for every individual.

Understanding the way different migraine medications work and the potential side effects for you personally are both important in finding the right treatment plan that will work for you. Because that is the ultimate goal – finding a plan that works for YOU!

But it is also so important to work alongside your doctor. You must give your doctor all the information needed to see the whole picture. I encourage you to keep a daily journal in order to identify possible triggers for migraines in your life. Journaling allows you to discover patterns in your daily activity. You may be able to identify and easily eliminate a trigger!

New Treatment Options for Migraines

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now approved a few new treatments options for migraines.

Ditans and gepants (a.k.a. CGRP antagonists) are new migraine treatments.

Gepants UBRELVY (ubrogepant) and NURTEC (rimegepant) and ditan REYVOW (lasmiditan) are newly available to treat acute migraines (as they happen).

According to an interview with Dr. Jessica Ailani, “Ditans and gepants are both medicines that can be taken as needed and swallowed in pill form or as a dissolvable tablet at the onset of an attack to treat symptoms like headache pain, light/sound sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting.”

Gepants are a once-daily treatment with low side effects. Some patients report dry mouth, but there are no overuse problems with gepants. 

And unlike triptans traditionally used, ditans don’t affect blood vessels. Ditans are an option for patients who don’t respond well to triptans or don’t like side effects of triptans. One consideration, however, is that ditans are a controlled substance and will limit your ability to drive a car for 8 hours. 

These new medicines are intended for patients with: 

  • 4 migraines per month or 8 or more headache days per month
  • Intolerable side effects from other treatments
  • No response to other preventive treatments

Final Thoughts on Stress and Insomnia as Triggers for Migraines

Our goal with this information is to help migraine sufferers think differently about their pain to improve their daily lives. Migraines are hard on the sufferer, but they’re also hard on the families and friends who feel helpless to do anything.

Alleviating a little stress may help, though.

If you have a family member or friend suffering from migraines more frequently, ask what you can do to help. In our family, my sister suffers from migraines. She has reduced her triggers over the years, but she still suffers a few times a month. And we are always willing to step in and help with the kids whenever needed!

~Dr. Katie


I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Allergan to write about the realities of migraine as a neurologic disease. All opinions are my own.

Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals.

I chose to partner with Med-IQ to help generate awareness around migraine symptoms and treatment to help others find relief from these debilitating attacks.

*Links to external sites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice, nor are they endorsements of any organization. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of any external site. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

What You Can Do – Take a Survey!

Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and would appreciate your input. The survey will take less than 10 minutes to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with migraine and related care, which will help us develop future educational initiatives in this area.

Once you’ve completed the survey, you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 10 $100 VISA gift cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will be used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize.

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