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How to handle a headache before it starts

Did you know there are about 200 types of headaches? But even for severe ones like migraines and recurring tension headaches, you shouldn’t always reach for meds right away.

Consumer Reports breaks down the evidence suggesting that lifestyle changes can actually help prevent headaches before they strike.

About 25% of women and 12% of men ages 18 to 44 get migraines or other severe headaches, according to a 2018 national health survey.

Consumer Reports says that if you suffer from recurring headaches, it’s important to talk to your doctor to figure out what might be causing them.

Many headaches don’t have a clear cause. But migraine headaches sometimes have a trigger that people can identify, like stress, hormonal changes, or dehydration.

While some over-the-counter and prescription medicines offer headache relief, they often cause with side effects. That’s one reason it’s important to try to prevent a headache before it even starts.

There’s evidence that simple lifestyle changes can help. Things like keeping consistent mealtimes, bedtimes, and waking times can make a difference, along with staying hydrated. And 20 minutes of aerobic exercise each day has also been found to decrease the frequency and severity of migraines.

Your doctor may also suggest other treatment options, including physical therapy, biofeedback, and acupuncture.

Headaches can sometimes signal more dangerous conditions, such as a stroke, that must be addressed immediately. They can also be a symptom of COVID-19, reported by about a third of the people in the U.S. diagnosed with the illness.

Preventing frequent aches

Hypnic headaches are generally easier to manage than migraines. A little bit of caffeine before bed—about 40 to 60 mg in a tablet, or about half a cup of brewed coffee—usually prevents them without keeping people up at night, Preston says. But don’t try this without talking to your doctor first. Just be sure to mention the time of your headaches so that they are not mistaken for migraines.