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What Are the Different Types of Pain Management for Migraines?

A.E. Freeman
By A.E. Freeman
Updated May 17, 2024
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Pain management for migraines involves more than taking painkillers or other medications to treat the headaches in some cases. Changes to a person's lifestyle, such as exercising more or changing diet, may be essential pain management for migraines. Some people may need to adjust their sleeping schedules or learn what foods trigger their migraines and avoid those foods. There are also two types of drugs that can treat migraines. One type helps lessen the pain when the headache occurs, and the other prevents the migraine from happening.

A person who experiences migraines may use either over-the-counter or prescription medications for pain management. Common over-the-counter pain killers include ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen. A drug that is a combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine is also available over the counter. For maximum effectiveness, these drugs should be taken right as the pain begins.

Prescription drugs for migraines include triptans such as sumatriptan and zolmitriptan. Although far more effective than over-the-counter pain medications, these drugs are not without their side effects, such as dizziness and nausea. The drugs aren't recommended for migraine sufferers who also have a high risk for heart attack and stroke.

Other pain-management options for migraines include stopping the headache before it starts. Medicine that prevents migraines may be a person's best option if she suffers from frequent migraines or if pain medicines do not help. The medicine may be taken daily or after a person is exposed to a migraine trigger. Preventative medicines include beta blockers, anti-seizure medications, and anti-depressants. These medications have side effects, so a patient may slowly stop using them if she has been migraine-free for half a year or more.

There are other options for pain management for migraines that do not involve taking medications. Some patients experience fewer migraines when they get enough sleep, between six and eight hours a night. Getting too much sleep can also trigger migraines, so a patient should avoid over-sleeping.

Avoiding triggers is another key part of pain management for migraines. Keeping a headache diary can help a person determine what triggers her migraines. Common migraine triggers include cheese and certain other dairy products, salty foods, and artificial sugars. Non-food triggers include cigarette smoke, fluctuations in the weather, and changes in hormone levels.

Some patients find that exercise is an effective pain-management tool for migraines. Aerobic exercise may help prevent migraines. Other exercises that help the muscles relax, such as yoga, may also help prevent migraine pain.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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