Up to 40 million people in the U.S.—women and men—regularly experience migraines, headaches so debilitating that their lives can be disrupted by the pain and other symptoms, according to the National Headache Foundation.
"Many people think only women get migraines," says Danielle Wilhour, MD, an assistant professor of neurology and headache specialist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. "This is completely untrue. In fact, in children, boys and girls, are equally affected by migraine. It is during the teenage years that migraines become more common in females. In adults, about one-quarter of patients with migraine are men."
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Men are more likely to suffer less severe migraines then women, but they also are less likely to seek treatment when they do have them, according to a February 2019 study in Cephalalgia, an International Headache Society journal.
Migraine Triggers in Men
What causes migraine headaches in men? While hormones play a big role in migraines in women, men seem to most affected by physical activity and lifestyle choices.
Exert yourself and you could feel a migraine coming on. The exertion could be as simple as walking up a flight of stairs or something more strenuous, such as a five-mile run, according to the National Headache Foundation. Sex falls under physical activity, and some men may find they suffer migraines after sexual activity, states the Mayo Clinic.
Other lifestyle triggers of migraines include:
Alcohol and caffeine. Many people find that drinking even a small amount of alcohol or caffeine results in migraines. Wine is often cited as the most likely alcoholic beverage to cause a migraine, but other drinks can do it, too, according to the American Migraine Foundation. And remember that caffeine is found not just in coffee, but also tea, chocolate and most sodas.
Stress. Whether you experience stress at work, at home or both, it's a well-known migraine trigger in people who are susceptible, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Sensory stimuli. You may find that bright lights and loud sounds can bring on a migraine, states Mayo. Some men find that strong smells such as perfume or chemicals at work can be migraine triggers.
Sleep patterns. Did you miss sleep on a business trip or get too much sleep while on vacation? Disruptions in your sleep patterns either way can trigger migraines in some men.
Medications. Some medications, including vasodilators, can trigger migraines, Mayo notes. Overusing other-the-counter (OTC) painkillers such as ibuprofen and aspirin can cause them to stop working and actually trigger more headaches, it adds.
Diet. Certain foods and additives are known migraine triggers in many people. Aged cheese and chocolate are common ones. It's not only what you eat, but when you eat or don't eat. Skipping meals or fasting can be a trigger, too.
Migraine Relief for Men
If you suffer migraines, step one is to keep a journal to help you identify your triggers. Once you have identified them, you can start to avoid them. The Mayo Clinic also suggests following these lifestyle tips:
- Be sure you get enough quality sleep.
- Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet. And stay on a schedule so you don't miss meals.
- Watch your alcohol and caffeine intake and avoid those foods that you know can cause a migraine.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause or worsen migraines.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise reduces tension that can cause migraine.
- Learn to reduce stress and enjoy your life.
- Talk to your doctor about medications that can help you control your migraines.
Migraine meds include those you take when you have a migraine to relieve pain and those you take to prevent another one. Some are OTC and some are prescription, so don't be afraid to discuss your migraines with your doctor. While many men might think of migraines as a female problem, it's not unmanly to have migraines, and there's no reason you should suffer when relief is available.
- National Headache Foundation: “How Does Migraine Impact Men?”
- Cephalalgia: “Epidemiology of Migraine in Men: Results from the Chronic Migraine Epidemiology and Outcomes (CaMEO) Study”
- Mayo Clinic: “Migraine”
- American Migraine Foundation: “Alcohol and Migraine”
- American Migraine Foundation: “Contributing Factors”
- Mayo Clinic: “Simple Steps to Head Off the Pain”
- American Migraine Foundation: “Commonly Used Acute Migraine Medications”
- Mayo Clinic: “Migraine Headache Treatment”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.