Do flickering lights and exercise really trigger migraines?

Many migraine sufferers report that flickering lights and vigorous exercise trigger their migraine attacks. Danish researchers published a study in the journal Neurology , in which they recruited 27 patients who suffered from migraines with aura. Of these 27, 12 reported that flickering lights triggered their attacks, 10 reported that vigorous exercise did and 4 felt that both of these were triggers, while only one felt that these were not triggers for her migraine headaches. These patients were then subjected to bright flickering lights for 30-40 minutes, exhausting exercise for 1 hour, or both. None of the 11 patients who were exposed to bright flickering lights developed a migraine, exercise alone triggered a migraine in 4 out of 12 patients (one migraine with aura and three had migraine without aura), while both types of stimulation together triggered a migraine with aura in 2 out of 7. This is a surprising finding, but it does not mean that patients are wrong about flickering light and strenuous exercise triggering migraines. A more likely explanation is that any particular trigger may require certain additional conditions, such as location which is associated with the expected headache, prior conditioning, such as stress that accompanies exposure to bright light in a certain room, added triggers, such as lack of sleep, alcohol, blood caffeine level, and many other. It is also possible that migraine with aura, unlike migraine without aura, is less likely to be triggered by exercise and flickering lights.
If you are exposed to one of your known triggers, if possible, you should try avoiding exposure to other triggers at the same time since it is often a combination of triggers that brings on a migraine. Regular aerobic exercise is one of the most effective preventive treatments for migraine headaches, so patients who are convinced that exercise triggers their headaches can be advised to start slow and gradually increase the duration and the intensity of their exercise. Ideally, everyone should exercise at least three times a week. Stationary bike or an elliptical machine may not be as much of a trigger as running because jarring of the head could also contribute to headaches. If even mild exercise causes a headache, taking an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or Migralex prior to exercise may prevent the headache. After a few weeks the medication may no longer be needed. Whatever is the trigger, general preventive measures will often reduce their impact. Besides exercise, these include getting enough sleep, learning biofeedback or meditation, taking supplements such as magnesium, CoQ10, and other, Botox injections, and as a last resort, prophylactic medications.
Photo credit: Run Wild Retreats

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