VANCOUVER -- There are about 200 different types of headaches, but even for severe ones like migraines and recurring tension headaches, you may not want to reach for medications right away. There’s evidence that suggests lifestyle changes can actually help prevent headaches before they strike.

Teresa Robinson has suffered from tension headaches for years. 

“They come on suddenly,” she says. “Sometimes it’s to the point where I can’t lift my head up. I have missed work, family functions, birthday parties, hanging out with the family, barbecues.” 

And she’s not alone. About a quarter of women and approximately 12 per cent of men ages 18 to 44 have recently had a migraine or other severe headache, according to a 2018 survey. 

If you have recurring headaches, it’s important to talk to your doctor to figure out what might be causing them.

“I haven’t pinpointed anything that necessarily causes the headaches,” Robinson says. 

And that can be tough. 

“Many headaches don’t have a clear cause,” says Consumer Reports health editor Lauren Friedman. “But migraine headaches sometimes have a trigger that people can identify, like stress, hormonal changes (or) dehydration.” 

While some over-the-counter and prescription medicines offer headache relief, they often come with side effects. That’s one reason it’s important to try to prevent a headache before it even starts. 

“There is evidence that shows simple lifestyle changes can help prevent headaches,” Friedman says. “Those are things like keeping consistent mealtimes, bedtimes and wake times, and also staying hydrated.” 

And 20 minutes of aerobic exercise each day has been found to decrease the frequency and severity of migraines. Your doctor can also suggest other treatment options, like physical therapy, biofeedback, and acupuncture. 

In the meantime, Robinson has one way of dealing with it. 

“A hot or warm compress over my eyes and (I) just lay there still,” she says. 

With files from Consumer Reports