Why “Waiting Out” a Migraine Probably Isn’t The Best Idea

Discover the benefits of addressing your head pain early.

Do you treat a headache right when you feel one coming on, or do you “wait it out”? The answer to this question might alter the effectiveness of your medication.

Why Do Some People Wait to Treat?

In a study of 690 migraine patients, 49 percent said that they often avoided or delayed taking their migraine medications when they felt an attack coming on. 1 Two common reasons for the delay? “Wanting to wait and see if it is really a migraine attack” (70 percent) or “only want to take medications if it is a severe attack” (46 percent).

But that might not be the best course of action: As a migraine evolves, its susceptibility to treatment decreases.

Acute Treatment for Migraine

“Acute treatment” is when you’re trying to stop a migraine in progress (as opposed to “preventative” treatment). Acute treatments vary, as every migraine sufferer is different, but may include over-the-counter drugs or prescription ones.

Regardless of the type of drug, your doctor may recommend that acute treatment be taken right away, when symptoms first begin. In fact, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s guidelines for primary care of headaches advises that patients take medication early in a migraine attack to improve effectiveness. 2

Be sure to work with your doctor to find the right treatment for your migraines.

And Then There’s the Idea of Sensitization

Sensitization describes the condition where the sensory receptors, called nociceptors, experience increased excitability, making them increasingly sensitive to pain. The result? Possibly, a lower pain threshold. 3

It’s complicated, so think of it like this: Thanks to sensitization, you might experience an exaggerated pain response — meaning pain that used to feel like a 4 might now feel like a 7.

The good news? It’s possible that early treatment of pain, before it becomes moderate or severe, could help reduce or even avoid sensitization.

It’s important to visit your doctor to get a migraine diagnosis and discuss the right method of treatment for your pain.


Show References

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1.  Foley KA, Cady R, Martin V, Adelman J, Diamond M, Bell CF, Dayno JM, Hu XH. Treating early versus treating mild: timing of migraine prescription medications  among patients with diagnosed migraine. Headache. 2005 May;45(5):538-45. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15953272

2.  “Guideline for primary care management of headache in adults.” Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health & Human Service. July 2012. http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=47060

3.  Burstein R, Jakubowski M, Rauch SD. The science of migraine. J Vestib Res. 2011;21(6):305-14. doi: 10.3233/VES-2012-0433. Review. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22348935



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