Managing migraine during Ramadan
By: Rachel Baxter, Communications Officer, The Migraine Trust
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year, is a time for prayer, reflection, sacrifice and people coming together. During the month, people across the world fast from dawn until sunset, avoiding eating or drinking anything during daylight hours.
If you partake in Ramadan and live with migraine, you might be feeling a bit apprehensive about the effects fasting can have on your condition. Skipping meals, dehydration, caffeine withdrawal and routine change are all very common migraine triggers, and research has found that some people find their migraine worsens during Ramadan. If this happens to you, you’re certainly not alone.
People who are unwell do not have to fast during Ramadan, but if you have migraine and are planning to fast, here are a few tips to help you manage your migraine during the month.
Swallowing medication can count as breaking the fast so if you take oral medication for your migraine, it’s worth speaking to your doctor before Ramadan begins. They will be able to advise you on whether it is safe for you to fast on your current treatment plan and how best to treat your migraine as you fast.
If you normally take acute medication like triptans, which you take as soon as you feel an attack coming on, your doctor might be able to switch you to a preventive medication that you can take before dawn each day to reduce your chances of having a migraine attack. If you are going to start a preventive medicine, it’s best to do this at least one month before Ramadan to give it time to start working.
If you do take triptans and currently take them in pill form, your doctor might be able to give you triptans in the form of a nasal spray instead, as long as you feel comfortable using a nasal spray during your fast.
Medication isn’t the only option for treating migraine, so, if you’d like to avoid taking medicine altogether during Ramadan, there are various non-drug options that could help you manage your migraine. These include acupuncture, hot and cold packs, and special devices that you place on your head. You can ask your doctor for advice on non-drug treatment options for migraine or find out more about them here. You should also tell your doctor if you plan to suddenly stop taking your current medication to ensure it’s safe for you to do so.
Many people who regularly consume caffeine find that if they suddenly stop, it can trigger a migraine attack. If you’re used to drinking lots of tea, coffee and/or Coca-Cola, reducing your intake during Ramadan might worsen your migraine. There are a couple of ways that could help you avoid this. The first is to slowly wean yourself off caffeine or reduce your intake in the lead up to Ramadan. Reducing your intake bit by bit is less likely to trigger a migraine attack than a sudden reduction in caffeine consumption. If this isn’t possible, having some caffeine before you begin your daily fast may help (make sure you drink plenty of water too).
It can be hard to avoid becoming dehydrated when fasting all day, so if you have migraine, make sure you drink lots of water at night when you have finished fasting for the day, as well as when you wake up in the morning before dawn. Try to avoid drinking very sugary drinks as these can make you more dehydrated.
Changes to mealtimes
If skipping meals tends to trigger your migraine, you might be worried about the effects of not eating from dawn until sunset. Trying to eat filling, slow-release energy foods may help you – these include high-protein foods like meat, fish and eggs, nuts and beans, and wholegrain carbohydrates like brown rice, oats or wholemeal bread. Try to avoid too many processed foods or foods high in sugar if you can, as the comedown from a sugar high might lead to a migraine attack as your blood glucose levels dip.
If Ramadan significantly changes your sleep routine, for example, if you’re waking up much earlier than you usually would, this change may trigger a migraine attack. To help avoid this, you could gradually set your alarm earlier and earlier in the days leading up to Ramadan to help your body adjust. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day during Ramadan could also help you stave off a migraine attack.
If you’re worried about your migraine or need further information or support, you can contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0066 or via our online form.
Learn more about migraine triggers and how to manage them here.