There are two main branches of treatment for migraine. Acute treatments seek to stop a migraine headache or to reduce its severity or duration while it is happening. Preventive treatments seek to keep headaches from happening or to reduce their frequency and severity.

Acute Treatments

While a migraine headache is in progress, ending it or reducing pain and other symptoms is of primary importance.


There are three main classes of drugs used to treat migraine headaches as they happen:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and analgesics reduce pain and inflammation and may help relieve mild migraines. Most are available in both over-the-counter and prescription dosages.
  • Ergotamines cause blood vessels to constrict and relieve migraine symptoms rapidly.
  • Triptans have several different effects on the brain and its blood vessels and can stop a severe migraine headache very rapidly in many cases.

 A small dose of caffeine is sometimes included in some of the drugs above, as it makes them work more effectively. In addition, migraine sufferers may be prescribed anti-nausea drugs to reduce the nausea and vomiting associated with migraine headaches. Opioid painkillers may be prescribed if other pain relievers stop working. See Migraine Drugs for more details.

Hot or Cold Compress

Applying a hot or cold compress to the head or neck can reduce the severity of pain during a migraine headache.

Darkness and Quiet

Migraine headaches usually include sensitivity to light and sound. Therefore, sitting or lying down in a dark, quiet room can make a headache more bearable.

Preventive Treatments

For ways to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches, visit the Migraine Prevention section.