How to Treat a Migraine
Migraine diagnosis and treatment
Although there is currently no cure for migraines, a number of treatment options are available to help you cope with the condition.
Once you’re diagnosed with migraines, your doctor will help you determine which treatments are right for you. This will depend on the type, frequency and severity of your headaches, as well as your individual medical history and any pre-existing conditions.(i)
Every person is different and what works for one migraine sufferer may not be effective for another – so there may be a bit of trial and error before you find the best medicine or treatment to control your migraines.
Types of migraine treatment
Broadly speaking, migraine medicines fall into two categories: acute treatment and preventative treatment.
Acute migraine treatment
Also known as abortive treatment, acute migraine medicines are essentially pain relievers designed to relieve migraine symptoms once they start. It is best if you begin taking these drugs the moment you notice the signs of an oncoming migraine – don’t wait until the migraine has fully developed. (ii)
Some examples of acute migraine medications include: (iii)
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen
Prescription medications, including triptans (such as sumatriptan and rizatriptan) and dihydroergotamines
Your doctor may also suggest a combination analgesic such as Excedrin Migraine. Combination analgesics contain two or more active pharmaceutical ingredients. Excedrin Migraine is formulated with 2 pain relievers (acetaminophen and aspirin) plus a booster/amplifier (caffeine), and delivers effective migraine relief.
Anti-nausea drugs such as prochlorperazine, metoclopramide or chlorpromazine may also be recommended by your doctor if you’re experiencing nausea and vomiting – especially if this is making it difficult to keep down your other medicines. (iv)
Remember to always follow the label instructions when taking medications, and let your doctor know about any other health conditions or medicines you may be taking, both prescription and over-the-counter, as these could affect which migraine treatments are suitable for you.
Preventative migraine treatment
If your migraines are happening frequently or not responding to acute treatment, your doctor may suggest taking a preventative migraine medicine. Some experimentation maybe needed to find a drug that is effective against your attacks, but some options include: (v)
Blood pressure medications, including beta blockers, such as propranolol and calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil
Botox injections every 12 weeks
Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) monoclonal antibody injections
Other options for migraine relief
Many people find that alternative therapies such as acupuncture and biofeedback can be useful in reducing or coping with migraine pain. Other people learn to manage their perception of pain through a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy. (vi)
There is some evidence that natural remedies such as vitamins and herbal supplements may provide migraine relief for some people. For example, riboflavin, magnesium and Coenzyme Q10 are vitamin supplements that are commonly recommended for migraine sufferers, and feverfew and butterbur are often cited as herbal remedies. (vii)
However, always check with your doctor before trying home remedies for migraines, as some are not suitable for people with other health conditions or may interact with other medications you’re taking.
There are a number of lifestyle tweaks you can try to help prevent migraine attacks and better manage the pain when it comes.
For example, many people find that exercising regularly and maintaining a consistent eating and sleeping routine helps cut their risk of migraines. Stay hydrated and try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and yoga if stress is an issue. Many people also keep a migraine diary to help identify potential triggers and track how effective their treatment is.
Once a migraine strikes, try to find somewhere dark and quiet where you can rest or even nap. Try using an eye mask or ear plugs if you’re struggling to shut out light and sound. Many people find it soothing to place an ice pack or cool towel on their forehead or neck. (viii)