Chocolate is everywhere we look – from the shop shelves to the recipe pages. Unbelievably, nearly 18 million chocolate eggs will be eaten in Ireland this Easter and that’s no eggs-ageration.
However, there are some among us who steer clear of chocolate in all its forms – and not just at Easter. Everything containing chocolate – from sweets to eggs, drinks to cakes – is avoided for fear that even one small bite could trigger a migraine attack, a neurological condition that can seriously impact people’s quality of life.
However, while chocolate can be the trigger for some, for many wanting a taste is a sign that a migraine caused by another trigger has already begun. Esther Tomkins, Clinical Nurse Specialist at the Migraine Clinic, Beaumont Hospital, recommends that people keep a detailed headache diary so their migraine and likely triggers, can be diagnosed for effective treatment.
Migraine diaries are available through the Migraine Association of Ireland or by downloading the free Migraine Buddy app.
Other supports and resources are available on speakyourmigraine.ie.
Migraine is the most common headache disorder seen by doctors in Ireland, yet Ms Tomkins says that the condition is still underdiagnosed and undertreated. “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.
There are four phases of a typical migraine. Food cravings for something sweet can be part of the initial or prodome phase, which often occurs 4 – 24 hours before the headache phase. According to Ms Tomkins, many patients are not familiar with this phase, but once asked about the prodromal symptoms, they readily recognise them from their own history, highlighting why keeping a migraine diary can help.
food cravings are a biological indicator of brain activity that a migraine attack has already started
“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 said.
Skipping meals rather than eating a particular food – even chocolate – is far more likely to trigger a migraine, according to Ms Tomkins who also encourages people with the condition 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.” Keeping hydrated is essential too, yet Ms Tomkins warns than alcohol and caffeine are common triggers.
Migraine is three times more common in women than in men, with most women experiencing the condition between the ages of 15-49 years.
Speakyourmigraine.ie is a new website that offers tools and resources to help people better understand their condition and the impact it is having on their life. It was developed by Novartis in consultation with patient organisations across Europe including the Migraine Association of Ireland to create awareness of the impact of migraine and other headache disorders.