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Health Answers

Can migraines be prevented without drugs?

Q. Are there non-drug methods to prevent migraines?

A. Yes, while drugs can help migraine sufferers avoid attacks, there are other steps you can take to prevent migraines, either alone or in combination with medications. For people with infrequent or mild migraines, these strategies may be enough, and for more severe cases, they may help reduce the dosage and frequency of medications.

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“The single most important thing would be to relax regularly,” says Steven Krause, director of rehabilitation programs at the Cleveland Clinic’s Neurological Center for Pain. He advises frequent migraine sufferers to take a two-minute break every two hours to sit quietly, breathe deeply, and let their bodies relax. “It can make a big difference in the severity and frequency of your headaches,” he says.

Poor or erratic sleep is a headache risk factor, so going to bed and getting up at the same time is important. A predictable schedule in waking life also helps; Krause says that people who have highly variable schedules or skip meals are more susceptible to headaches.

But it’s not helpful to be too rigid about your habits or overly focused on avoiding potential headache triggers in your environment. “Paradoxically, the more fearful you are of getting a headache, the more likely you are to have one,” Krause says.

Research shows that regular exercise can help prevent migraines; exercise releases endorphins, natural chemicals that control pain. Krause recommends getting aerobic activity — it could be as simple as taking a brisk walk — most days of the week.

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