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Headaches a Lover's Bane on Valentine's Day

Food and romance can trigger migraines

FRIDAY, Feb. 14, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- This Valentine's Day, think twice about the chocolate, the wine, the flowers, the romantic bubble bath -- and maybe even the sex, should you get so lucky.

Cupid's favorite day can be a minefield, especially for those who suffer from migraines. Here's how to avoid hearing those dreaded words: "Not tonight, dear, I have a headache."

"Common foods that are migraine triggers are red wine, chocolate and aged cheeses," says Dr. Glen D. Solomon, chairman of the department of medicine at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. "So some of the very common things that we associate with Valentine's Day and with romance can have just the opposite effect."

Moreover, women are most at risk for this type of headache; men have them only one-third as frequently. "About one in five women in the U.S. has migraines and the typical age is from teenager to menopause -- and this is the group that may be most interested in celebrating Valentine's Day," Solomon says.

Other migraine triggers associated with Valentine's Day are perfume, flowers (especially if they've been sprayed with extra scent), scented candles, and even that scented bubble bath, says Dr. Larry Newman, director of the Headache Institute at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

Even if you manage to get safely through the romantic dinner for two (no scented candles, no wine, no chocolate), there may still be trouble brewing in the bedroom. Namely, sexual headaches.

These aren't the "not-tonight-I-have-a-headache" variety but the "not-tonight-I'm-going-to-get-a-headache" variety headaches that are actually brought on during sexual activity.

The most common of these headaches, aptly enough, is the explosive type, which occurs at the moment of orgasm. "They make migraines pale by comparison," Newman says. "A person may have two to three episodes and will be afraid ever to have sex again."

The explosive headache may be accompanied by sensitivity to light and queasiness, but is over in 20 minutes to an hour. Men are more likely to experience this than women, particularly men who are cheating on their partners, Newman notes.

The dull-type headache feels like a tension vice over the head. This one occurs as you approach orgasm and, according to Newman, is not as bad as the explosive type. It affects both men and women.

Finally, the "positional" headache (no, not that kind of position) comes on after sex and tends to be worse if you sit or stand. "You have to lie down to get rid of it and it is believed to be due to a tear in the lining of the spinal cord that lets spinal fluid out," Newman says.

A headache specialist is the way to go if you're suffering from any of these ailments.

And if you're looking to liven up your sex life, follow this advice from Cynthia Finley, a registered dietician with the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore:

  • Don't rely on supposed aphrodisiacs, such as oysters, chocolate, avocadoes, or asparagus. Their mythic properties are, well, mythic. "The science isn't really there," Finley says.
  • Try to lose those love handles. "In order to maintain sexual health in general, you need to attain and maintain a body mass index of less than 28," Finely advises. "When your BMI goes up, you have a decreased libido." Why? It could be hormones, depression or just plain fatigue.
  • Move your body. "Anything that improves vascular health will help you maintain sexual health because blood flow is very important," Finley says.
  • Don't go on crash diets. Being malnourished also causes your libido to drop, Finley says.
  • Limit the fats in your diet and eat lots of fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals that help maintain cardiovascular health and just generally keep you well.

More information

The National Headache Foundation has a complete guide to headaches.

For more on eating right, check out the food pyramid. To calculate your body mass index, get help from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

SOURCES: Cynthia Finley, R.D., L.D., registered dietician, Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, Baltimore; Larry Newman, M.D., director, Headache Institute, St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, New York City; Glen D. Solomon, M.D., chairman, department of medicine, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, Ill.
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