Santa Claus, the man who delivers toys to millions of children worldwide, is also hiding something more sinister in his sleigh – a sack full of trigger factors for millions of migraineurs. Behind the presents, wrapped beneath the tree, lurks a migraine-inducing chocolate selection box. For every Barbie doll dropped down the chimney, a bottle of red wine pops open in the kitchen. And for every smiling face of a child, there’s the grimace of a stressed-out parent in the background.
“For the 500,000 migraineurs in Ireland, avoidance is often the strategy best adopted at Christmas,” says Donna Walsh, information officer at the Migraine Association of Ireland [MAI]. “We’re not telling sufferers to abstain from alcohol or give-up their gravy over the festive period – unless these things are definite migraine triggers for the individual.
“What we are advising is that sufferers work out their triggers in advance and then avoid or minimise exposure to these triggers on the day – be it alcohol, chocolate, or even stress,” she says.
Foods, often enjoyed around Christmas, can be major trigger factors. The top Christmas culprits are smoked fish, dried fruits, caffeine, cheese, processed foods, and organ meats, such as pate.
Alcohol is also a common trigger – especially red wine and other dark coloured beverages. Dehydration can become a factor too, so migraineurs should ensure they consume adequate amounts of water, especially after a night out.
Sleep, an often overlooked trigger, can cause problems for sufferers at Christmas – too much, too little, or even too irregular. Many migraineurs need a routine – getting up at a similar hour each morning is always a good idea. However, the temptation to lie-in during the holidays is often too much to resist, especially after a big night out.
Stress – often unavoidable at Christmas – is a common pitfall for sufferers over Christmas. Stress can be both positive and negative, and if you are a migraineur watch out for a ‘come-down’ headache which can arrive as you relax after a busy period.
The association can be contacted on 1850 200378 for more information and online at www.migraine.ie