a person with their books and laptop computer spread out on a brain shaped table.

College Life and Migraines

The stressors of being away from home for the first time, coupled with not eating or sleeping well, along with an enormous workload can lead to the perfect storm - development of migraines.

Even if you have had migraines prior to attending college, the above factors can unleash a reaction of recurrent frequent attacks. Both my daughter and I experienced worsening migraine attacks during the first semester of college.

What can you do to prevent this reaction from occurring?

Being a college student with all the rigorous demands is challenging enough without having to worry about migraine attacks.

Know your health history

First, it is important to be cognizant of your family history and risk factors. Make sure that before attending college, you have your migraine prescription medicines on hand (ask your doctor/pharmacist to transfer the prescription to a nearby pharmacy or to the student center).

Be aware of changing patterns

Second, it is important to recognize patterns and realize that typically there is not one single trigger but a combination of things like lack of sleep, dehydration, low pressure, etc. that triggers migraines. Of note, in my experience, migraines occur more frequently when there is a drastic change in typical routine.

For instance, if at home you were used to sleeping 8 hours a night and now you only sleep 5 hours in college- this alteration in schedule will most likely result in exacerbation of head pain. Once your body is used to going 5 hours the chance of having a migraine attack will diminish.

The same thing happens during stressful situations. Initially, the overwhelming stress of new collegiate life will most commonly trigger migraines. However, there may be times when a severe migraine will strike after the inciting stressors have dissipated (e.g. you finally got to sleep a full night after staying up all night studying for finals or finished a stressful project and wham migraine). These episodes can often be confusing and misleading, leaving one perplexed.

Know your triggers

Third, because everyone is different as to what combination causes their migraine attacks and what constitutes stress in their own life, it is imperative to know oneself. Keep a migraine diary if unsure so you can see patterns or help you recognize triggers.

For example, some people have migraines every time they drink red wine (I am one of those people so I avoid it completely). Others get migraine attacks if they eat MSG (in processed food) or chocolate, while others have improvement in head pain with caffeine and chocolate (me).

11 migraine management tips

In the end, best treatment practices prevail:

  1. Stay informed about your condition - what triggers it and how to reduce episodes.
  2. Avoid offending foods (especially alcohol and smoking).
  3. Make sure you maintain a routine (sleeping and eating 3 nutritious meals a day go a long way in preventing and keeping migraine attacks at bay).
  4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
  5. Having medication handy at all times to take as soon as symptoms commence is crucial and use prophylactic treatments if needed (even if no head pain is present, but only light/noise sensitivity or nausea is present, take your medication).
  6. Stay physically active.
  7. Find ways to reduce stress.
  8. Avoid loud and smoky places if at all possible (carry earplugs).
  9. Then there are times when we have no control, like when weather changes – migraine attacks will just come on suddenly; but if you have medication on hand (along with remaining in a cool, low light, quiet place) it is much easier to weather the storm (wear dark shades if light sensitivity or sleep with a sleeping mask, like I do).
  10. If not being able to sleep a full 8 hours causes a migraine, then you need to prioritize sleep. But what if a roommate keeps you up? You must have a discussion with them about your needs. Consider a divider to have some privacy, wear a mask to sleep, and/or use earplugs. If all else fails, you may need to consider rooming in a suite where you can have your own space.
  11. Consider a diffuser for your room to help relax. Using oils like peppermint also helps relieve nausea and head pain.

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