Most migraine sufferers avoid alcohol, as it can trigger severe headaches

Alcoholic beverages, especially red wine, are recognised by patients with migraine as a trigger, which has a significant impact on alcohol consumption behaviours, according to a new study

Most migraine sufferers avoid alcohol, as it can trigger severe headaches
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A migraine is a headache accompanied by a severe throbbing or pulsing sensation on one side of the head.  Some individuals also experience aura such as flashes of light or wavy vision.

People often report feeling nauseous and sensitive to light and sound during a migraine attack.  Both the frequency and severity of the migraines vary from individual to individual, but migraine symptoms typically last anywhere from four hours to four days.

Migraines are considered idiopathic, meaning that its causes are not well understood.  They can be caused by genetic factors such as a family history of migraines, chemical imbalances, or changes in the brain stem.

Environmental factors can also trigger migraines. For example, certain foods, alcohol, sensory stimuli such as bright lights, intense physical exertion, a change in sleeping pattern.

Now, researchers have conducted a study to gauge whether alcohol use and migraines are directly interlinked to each other or not?

Among more than 2,000 migraine patients in the Netherlands, more than a third said alcohol was a migraine trigger for them. Of the 650 patients who had stopped consuming alcohol, one in four said it was to avoid triggering migraines.

And 78 per cent of patients who did drink alcohol cited red wine as the specific drink that could trigger an attack. Vodka was a trigger for only 8 per cent.

Whether alcohol is a reliable migraine trigger, and why, are both poorly understood, the study authors write in the European Journal of Neurology. Alcohol seems to affect about a third of those prone to migraines, and the amount of alcohol and time it takes to trigger a headache vary as well, they note.

“Migraine patients frequently link the consumption of alcoholic beverages with the triggering of their migraine attacks, however, patients report that alcoholic beverages do not consistently trigger attacks,” lead study author Gerrit Onderwater of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherland said.

These migraines are likely triggered by alcohol mixed with several other factors, he said.

“Identifying factors involved in the triggering of attacks may point to compounds which could be avoided,” he said.

Onderwater and colleagues found that alcoholic drinks were reported as a trigger by about 36 per cent of survey participants. For a third of these patients, the migraine started within three hours, and for almost 90 per cent, the migraine began within 10 hours. Patients estimated that it took about two drinks to initiate an attack.

Still, among those who said red wine was a trigger for them, only 9 per cent said it triggered a headache every time they drank it. Among those who said vodka was a trigger, only 11 per cent said it brought on a headache every time.

“Migraineurs already have burdens and limitations regarding different trigger factors. I always heard from my patients that they were prohibited from consuming wine because they were migraine sufferers,” said Dr Abouch Krymchantowski of the Headache Center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Migraines may be triggered by certain types of red wine, including those with more phenolic flavonoid components, he said. Combining wine with other triggers such as menstruation, stress, heat, certain foods, fasting or sleep deprivation may influence the migraine as well.

“I frequently have attacks when I combine wine with sleep deprivation, like a long-duration flight,” he said.

“Combining with other triggers increases the chance of an attack over savouring your favourite wine when you are relaxed and well,” added Dr Krymchantowski.

“I believe that many chronic pain conditions, including migraines, can be significantly affected by lifestyle and behaviour changes, and alcohol consumption is one of many behaviours that can be adjusted,” said Rachel Davis-Martin of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Future studies could use smartphone apps and wearable biosensors for patients to record triggers and headaches on a daily basis to better understand how and when migraines begin, as well as the progression of migraines over time, she said.

“Migraines can be managed with medication and lifestyle choices, using treatment options from both physicians and health psychologists,” she said.

In conclusion, Davis-Martin said, “Although chronic pain conditions can be debilitating, there are things people can do to help improve their overall quality of life”

Source: Reuters – with inputs from the European Journal of Neurology

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