Migraine headaches have no cure. If you have migraines, you will likely deal with them throughout your life. However, for most people with migraines, it is possible to find relief. Whether that comes from a medication or an alternative treatment, it’s possible you will be able to end the pain from a migraine if you get one. Here are the most successful treatment options for migraine headaches.
When you suffer from migraine headaches frequently, your doctor may wish to give you preventive medicines to help stop a migraine before it starts. Typically, a person who suffers from a migraine two or more times each month is a candidate for this type of therapy. Regular use of these medicines may help reduce the frequency, length, and severity of a migraine episode when one occurs. Taken daily or when a migraine begins, these medicines may also make pain-relieving medicines more effective.
- Antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants may help your brain maintain even levels of brain chemicals and substances, such as serotonin, that can cause a migraine.
- Cardiovascular drugs. Calcium channel blockers are typically prescribed to treat cardiovascular disease. However, research shows this class of drugs, especially the medicine verapamil (Isoptin), may be able to prevent migraines and relieve aura symptoms. Beta blockers, which are usually prescribed to treat high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, may also be able to prevent migraines and reduce the severity of one if it occurs.
- Botox. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox) for the treatment of migraine headaches. Injections made in the muscles of the forehead and neck have been shown to ease the severity and reduce the frequency of migraine headaches in adults with chronic headaches. If this treatment works for you, you will have to get repeat injections about every 12 weeks.
- Anti-seizure medicines. The anti-seizure medicines valproate sodium (Depacon), gabapentin (Neurontin), and topiramate (Topamax) have been shown to reduce migraine headaches. The side effects of these medicines include cramps, hair loss, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, so doctors use them only when other medicines and treatment options have been unsuccessful.
These medicines work best when taken as soon as symptoms begin. This allows the medicine plenty of time to work on the symptoms before the pain becomes too bothersome or overwhelming.
- OTC pain relievers. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as acetaminophen, naproxen, aspirin, and ibuprofen, may help ease migraines. Some OTC pain relievers are targeted specifically to migraine sufferers. These medicines typically have combinations of several pain medications with the addition of caffeine. (Caffeine has been shown to help the body absorb pain medications more quickly.)
- Triptans. The most commonly prescribed medication for migraine attacks is triptans. Medicines in this class of drugs include sumatriptan (Imitrex), almotriptan (Axert), and rizatriptan (Maxalt), among others. These medicines are best for people who experience nausea and sensitivity to light or sound during a migraine.
- Midrin. This combination medicine—it uses isometheptene, acetaminophen, and dichloralphenazone—is typically taken during the early stages of a migraine headache. It prevents dilated blood vessels from expanding further.
- Opiates. Narcotic-containing medicines, such as codeine, can be used to treat migraine headaches. However, these medicines are used with extreme caution, as they can be habit-forming.
- Dexamethasone. A corticosteroid, this medication is often used with other medicines to help ease the pain from a migraine. However, dexamethasone should be used infrequently due to a risk for steroid toxicity.
- Ergot. Combination drugs that use ergotamine and caffeine are common in migraine treatment, too. They work to prevent the dilation of blood vessels that causes headaches.
- Anti-nausea medicines. For patients who suffer from nausea, vomiting, and upset stomach as a result of a migraine headache, doctors may prescribe anti-nausea medications, such as prochlorperazine (Compazine) or promethazine (Phenergan), to help prevent the uneasiness.
If you do not wish to take medicine or would like to use a combination therapy of medicine and other proven techniques, a few alternative treatments have been found to treat or relieve some of the symptoms of migraine headaches successfully.
- Rest and relaxation. Much easier said than done for many people, rest and relaxation may help ease a migraine attack once it has started. Often, people with migraines report the most relief when in a cold, dark room—this way, they have no sensory stimulation that may worsen an existing headache.
- Cold compress therapy. Wrap a pack of ice or cooling gel around the back of your neck or across your forehead. The gentle pressure to the scalp will help relieve some of the pain.
- Sleep. Too little sleep can trigger a migraine headache, but so can too much sleep. Get rest, but stay between six and eight hours each day so you don’t end up worsening your problem.
- Relax. Practice relaxation techniques and exercise to help you learn to release some anxiety and tension. Whether it’s meditation, yoga, listening to music, or taking a hot bath, find something that helps you relieve the building tension in your head and neck.
- Acupuncture. Research has shown acupuncture can be helpful for migraine pain relief.
- Manual therapy. Both massage therapy and chiropractic treatment may help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches.
- Vitamins. Research suggests feverfew may be a great addition to your vitamin regimen if you suffer from migraine headaches. Several clinical studies show that when taken regularly, this member of the sunflower family may help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. Some herbs may increase the likelihood of a migraine, however, so take vitamins, minerals, and herbs with caution and only with approval from your doctor.