Migraine headaches can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, which as you know causes a loss of valuable time at home and work, not to mention the emotional blow that it can deal you. That’s why it is so important to find treatment methods that work and work quickly.
You must know first that there is no cure for migraine headaches, so the best way to stop them is to prevent them and second best is to relieve the pain. (Learn more about identifying your triggers to stop pain: How to Figure out Your Migraine Triggers).
Because migraines are not your typical headache, you need to discuss any medication or treatment with your doctor. And, if you are pregnant, do not try any treatment, even natural or herbal, without your doctor’s approval. Here are the treatments that are normally associated with migraine headache management:
Over the Counter Medication
We reach for pain relievers at first sign of a headache. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) seem to have the greatest effect, especially early on when symptoms are still mild. Taking one of these medicines at the first sign of a migraine headache can reduce intensity and possibly duration of the episode. You’ll recognize them as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin.
Taking too many over the counter medications can lead to an irritated bowel and other digestive issues, so try not to rely on this exclusively.
For many over the counter just won’t cut it. For me if I don’t catch it early enough there is nothing that can reduce the pain other than prescriptions medications. Here are some that are available for you to discuss with your doctor.
Triptans – This is a class of prescription drugs that doctor’s may prescribe for those who have several episodes of migraines each month. Some examples of triptans you may have heard about include sumatriptan (Imitrex – what I use), rizatriptan (Maxalt), zolmitriptan (Zomig), and eletriptan (Relpax). These drugs are not recommended for people who have heart disease or who are at risk for stroke or heart attack. There are side effects so discuss those with your doctor. Over time the migraines should subside as the medicine begins to circulate through your system, it typically takes my Imitrex about 30 minutes to 1 hour to work. I find that for me food speeds up this time.
Ergot – Ergotamines are often chosen after triptans because of efficacy. An example of drugs in this class is dihydroergotamine (Migranal). If your migraines last longer than two days, this may be for you. There are also fewer side effects than with triptans.
Anti nausea medications – One of the common symptoms of migraine headaches is nausea, with or without vomiting. Some migraine sufferers report the feeling of nausea is worse than actually vomiting, or even the headache itself. Treating this symptom may help you deal better with your migraine. One example of this is metoclopramide (Reglan).
Alternative Medical Methods
Alternative medicine is one area that can help you alleviate the pain and prevent the onset of migraines. This is where I have done some of the most experimenting with prevention. Remember that every migraine is different so you will also want to try different methods to find the right one for you. Once again, consult your doctor before beginning any alternative treatment, especially if you are pregnant.
Acupuncture – This ancient procedure involves the use of hair-thin needles inserted at different points on the body according to a meridian chart. The practice is done in order to awaken areas in your body where your flow of energy has been blocked. There are many success stories from people who have used acupuncture for migraines. I have tried this and while it did not work for me you never know! (Just in case you were wondering, the pain factor depends on your practitioner’s skill level, but overall nothing more than a little pinch!) Be sure you seek out a qualified professional. Your own doctor may be a good source for information in finding the right acupuncturist.
Massage – There are various types of massage that may prove helpful in reducing muscle tension. Specific massage methods can be used to improve functions, such as sleep. If lack of sleep is one of your triggers, massage may be able to help alleviate your migraine headaches. Deep muscle massage is also said to improve blood circulation, keeping small capillaries unrestricted in the head, which will also improve your chance of fighting off a migraine. Seek a qualified massage specialist who will consult with you at length before proceeding. This is one of my personal favorite ways to reduce the pain from a migraine. Some therapists have experience with treating patients with migraines, and I have found that these therapists are well worth having on speed dial!
Herbs and plants – It is believed that the flower, feverfew, has properties that limit the inflammation of blood vessels in the head, which should reduce the severity of a headache. Butterbur is another plant that is purported to be an anti-inflammatory. Both can be taken as a tea or in capsule form. Consider also sipping tea made from ginger as it is believed to relieve pain and nausea, both. Another natural substance is ginko, which improves blood circulation. All of these are worth a try, but people have reported allergic reactions. Before ingesting anything to treat your migraines, even though it’s a natural substance, consult your doctor. If you are pregnant, none of these should be tried without your doctor’s permission.
Cold compresses – This is one of the easiest remedies you’ll find. Cold compresses reduce the pain in aching muscles by reducing swelling. You’ve probably used a cold compress on your shoulders, legs, or back if you participate in sports. You can also use a compress on your forehead for relief of a migraine. A simple wet washcloth kept in the refrigerator will help relieve pain. However, it’s worth the investment to have a gel eye mask on hand. You store them in the freezer and then apply to the eyes and forehead. These masks hold the cold longer than a wet rag and conform nicely to the contours around the eyes and forehead. I personally have four of them at the ready in the freezer. While they won’t eliminate the pain it does reduce the pain while you are working on other treatments.
There are many treatment options for the migraine sufferer from which to choose. Each treatment should be discussed thoroughly with your own doctor before proceeding. Even though there is no cure for migraines, the right treatment can give you a chance at a life that is not debilitated by migraine headaches.
For more ideas on pain relief, check out my Top 10 Migraine Relief Methods that I use personally.