Many with migraine avoid chocolate

However they may not need to
  • Deborah Condon

Many people with migraine avoid chocolate at all times because they are worried it may trigger the painful condition, however this is not always the case, the Migraine Association of Ireland (MAI) has said.

It is particularly difficult to avoid chocolate at this time of the year, with almost 18 million chocolate eggs expected to be consumed in Ireland this Easter.

Migraine is a neurological condition that leads to a throbbing, severe headache that can last from a few hours to a few days. Other symptoms can include nausea, light sensitivity and dizziness. Some 12-15% of the population are affected.

According to the MAI, some people with migraine avoid chocolate entirely for fear that even one small bite could trigger an attack. However, while chocolate can be a trigger for some, for many, wanting a taste is a sign that a migraine caused by another trigger has already begun.

Esther Tomkins, a clinical nurse specialist at the Migraine Clinic in Dublin's Beaumont Hospital, recommends that people keep a detailed headache diary, so that their migraine and likely triggers can be diagnosed for effective treatment.

Migraine diaries are available through the MAI or by downloading the free Migraine Buddy app.

Ms Tomkins pointed out that while migraine is the most common headache disorder seen by doctors in Ireland, the condition is still under-diagnosed and under-treated.

"Migraine can disrupt family events, time with children, work and social lives, so it is important that patients seek help to receive the correct diagnosis and treatment," she said.

She explained that there are four phases of a typical migraine and food cravings for something sweet can be part of the initial or prodrome phase, which often occurs 4-24 hours before the headache phase.

Ms Tomkins noted that many patients are not familiar with this stage, but once asked about prodromal symptoms, they clearly recognise them. This highlights why keeping a migraine diary can help.

"As food cravings occur just before the headache, many believe that chocolate or sweet foods are a migraine trigger. However in reality, the food cravings are a biological indicator of brain activity that a migraine attack has already started.

"Once patients recognise and understand the prodrome phase, it is often easier to treat and manage the migraine attack. Food-related triggers only occur in less than 10% of people with migraine, yet over a third of patients can experience food craving, with chocolate and cheese among the most popular choices," she explained.

She said that skipping meals, rather than eating a particular food such as chocolate, is far more likely to trigger a migraine. She also urged people not to be too restrictive with their diet.

"Eliminating foods or extreme dieting can cause more problems. Routine, with three meals every day, is important for the effective management of migraine," she insisted.

Keeping hydrated is also essential, although alcohol and caffeine are common triggers, Ms Tomkins pointed out.

Migraine is three times more common in women than in men, with most women experiencing the condition between the ages of 15 and 49. For more information on the condition, visit speakyourmigraine.ie, which offers tools and resources to those affected, or visit the MAI site here.

 


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