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Question : I have migraines. Recently I my headaches are more frequent and last longer than before. What may cause the change? What can I do to prevent them?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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September 10, 2013
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There are many possible reasons for having more headaches. These include:

  • Not getting enough sleep and/or having an erratic sleep schedule.
  • Suddenly stopping or cutting way back on caffeine.
  • A new medicine. For example, birth control pills can make migraines worse, even if you have been taking the same prescription for a long time.

Another reason could be a change in your diet. Foods and drinks well known to trigger headaches include:

  • Red wine. Of all alcoholic drinks, this one most often triggers a headache. Red wine contains the amino acid tyramine, which causes headaches in sensitive people. However, some people with headaches are sensitive to all alcoholic drinks.
  • Aged foods. As cheese ages, the breakdown of the protein releases the amino acid tyramine, the same ingredient that is the cause of headaches related to red wine.
  • Processed foods. Foods like hot dogs and pepperoni often contain nitrates, another headache trigger. Some processed foods also are rich in tyramine.
  • Chocolate. A little bit of chocolate usually won't trigger a headache. When chocolate does cause a headache, tyramine is probably the culprit.
  • Very cold foods. An ice cream headache usually comes on quickly and lasts less than a minute. But for some people who get migraine headaches, eating ice cream can trigger a much longer migraine attack.

You can make changes based on the above list.

Regarding foods and drinks, it may not be obvious which ones might be causing more headaches. Keep a food diary. Every time you have a headache, write down everything you ate and drank before the headache started. You might discover that it’s not the food that's causing the trouble. But something else the manufacturer added to the food, such as a preservative.

 

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