How are Migraines Treated?

Migraines are treated in a variety of ways. Much depends upon the severity of symptoms, the frequency of migraines, and any causal factors that may help reduce migraine incidence. There are non-drug treatments, often focusing on prevention, which include things like smoking cessation, avoiding foods with nitrates, MSG, sulphites (common in wine), and tyramine, which can be found in many hard cheeses. Sleeping when you have a terrible headache can also help treat a migraine, as can generally eating healthfully and getting regular exercise.

Some people also look to non-traditional approaches to treat a migraine. Such approaches may include acupressure or acupuncture, massage, meditation, practice of yoga, or a variety of herbal treatments. People who do look for less western medical approaches should still check out any untested or unproven treatments with a physician, perhaps one who specializes in complementary medicine, a blending of Western and Eastern medical practices.

If you get a migraine from time to time, but they’re not very severe, most doctors will recommend you try an over the counter pain medication first. Some women, for instance, get these headaches right before or during their menstrual period, and some find relief from taking medications that contain either a non steroidal anti inflammatory drug like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, or taking acetaminophen. Benefit can be had if you use acetaminophen combined with caffeine. Caffeine has been shown to help reduce migraine pain for many people.


Migraines that don’t respond well to over the counter treatments may need prescription drug treatment. One class of medications that have been shown to be effective for moderate to severe migraines is called triptans. There are several types available, and all are now available in pill form. The most common is Imitrex® (sumatriptan). Triptans help to constrict blood vessels, and reduce inflammation. In approximately 80% of people who get these wretched headaches, triptans completely stop pain, especially when taken at the first sign of such a headache. Other classes of drugs that may be tried that have blood vessel constricting properties include ergots.

The one difficulty with triptans and ergots is they may not be safe for all people to take. If you have narrowing of the arteries, and sometimes people are unaware of this condition, both classes of drugs can increase possibility of stroke or of a transient ischemic attack. You should weigh the risks versus benefits with a doctor prior to deciding to take these medications.

Another way to go is to take narcotic pain medications, again only available through prescription. Many feel that such medications don’t really attack the pain, but do make you feel very sleepy. Some narcotic pain medications may disable you just as effectively as migraines do, since you may not be able to concentrate, drive to work, or perform at your normal rate when you take them.

Another approach, especially used when patients have frequent migraines, is to prescribe daily medications that reduce likelihood of getting migraines. There are a few drugs, some in the anti-depressant class, and others that are beta-blockers, that may help reduce or even end most migraines. These medications are usually considered as a last resort when migraines are exceptionally pervasive because they do have some side effects. Many people do tolerate these drugs well, and encounter few side effects. Again, discussion with your doctor should focus on the best individual treatment for you, and the risks and benefits of any proposed treatment course.



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