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common conditions

Migraine Headaches

Migraines are common in autistic adults, particularly women.

There many kinds of headaches, and migraine headaches are much more common among autistic adults (42%) than the general population (10%). As with the general population, females are three times more likely than males to experience migraines, so autistic females are especially prone to these types of headaches.

As noted in our article on pain, it can be difficult for nonverbal adults to communicate when they have a headache and what types of symptoms they are experiencing. Some signs of migraine in autistic adults can include:

  • changes in eating habits

  • nausea or vomiting

  • sudden need to be in a dark space (photophobia)

  • sudden need to be in a quiet space (phonophobia)

  • repeated touching or banging of the head

  • eye movement or problems that indicate aura (tunnel vision, blind or color spots)

Treatment for headaches can vary depending on the kind of headache and any other medications or supplements currently prescribed. Always consult with all prescribing clinicians when considering prescription migraine medication or nutritional supplements.

The American Migraine Foundation has advice for managing migraines, including:

  • Eat small, balanced meals at regular intervals and avoid getting too hungry

  • Keep a regular sleep and exercise schedule

  • Limit intake of processed or fried foods, chocolate, artificial sweeteners and foods with nitrates and nitrites (check the labels on bacon, hot dogs, and other cured meats)

  • Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol (especially red wine and beer)

  • Keep a food diary to identify foods that might trigger migraines

Harvard Health Publishing also offers specific advice on managing headaches: