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05 March 2024

Get rid of migraine: Find your food triggers

By Staff

There are foods that trigger migraine and those that help relieve it, revealed experts at the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) at the Monday smart clinic.

“For some patients, coffee and chocolate can trigger headaches, but for others, it can actually help relieve it,” added Dr Ayman Al Boudi, neurologist at Rashid Hospital, which sees approximately 150 to 200 patients per week for headache related issues.

“In the case of migraines, patients should be aware of foods that can trigger a migraine and those that can help relieve it. This differs from person to person. Therefore, awareness of one’s body helps tackle migraines.

“Stress, sleep deprivation and excessive work load can also trigger a migraine.”

Al Boudi explained headaches can be broadly divided into two categories – primary and secondary. A primary headache is not a symptom of an underlying disease; it is caused by over activity of pain-sensitive structures in the head. Migraine, tension-type and cluster headaches fall under the primary category.

“The triggers for primary headaches can be certain foods, such as processed meats that contain tyramine, lack of sleep, skipped meals, changes in weather and stress.”

Maryam Ali Essa, senior clinical dietician in DHA’s clinical nutrition department, added, “Processed foods, additives, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, chocolate, cheese, grapes etc. are foods that can trigger migraines.

“Certain fragrances such as perfumes or peculiar smells such as onion and garlic smell can trigger migraines.

“The triggers vary for each individual and therefore we ask patients to be alert so that they understand their triggers and avoid those. If a patient feels a particular food may be a headache trigger, it is best to remove it from his diet. If the patient puts it back in his diet and headaches return, then it is a real trigger."

When to visit a healthcare professional

Dr Yasir Mehmood Malik, neurologist at Rashid Hospital, said secondary headaches are due to underlying health problems and those need to be investigated.

“A rule of thumb is that if the headache is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, vision problem, loss of consciousness, abnormal jerking or a sensory or motor complaint then, it is better to get it checked.

“If the headache occurs for more than a month, it should be investigated.”

He added, “If the person gets a very severe headache all of a sudden, if the headache is accompanied by loss of consciousness, jerky movements, blurry vision, sensory abnormality etc. the person should immediately visit the hospital because these are symptoms for something acute such as bleeding in the brain.”

The causes of secondary headache are varied and can be due to acute sinusitis, blood clot within the brain, blockage in artery of the brain, abnormal formation of brain blood vessels, structural problem in the skull, concussion, dental problems, ear infection, glaucoma, influenza, meningitis, panic attacks etc.

Essa added that “migraines may become more frequent and severe during perimenopause because hormone levels rise and fall unevenly.

“This fluctuation triggers migraines. Hormone replacement therapy is sometimes used to treat perimenopause and once menopause occurs, mostly the headaches settle. Every person is different and reacts differently and therefore women who experience headaches during this time should seek medical intervention so that the doctor can see what best works for them.”