Migraines are challenging for several reasons. Not only can they cause excruciating pain, but there’s currently no cure for them.
But you shouldn’t give up hope. A number of therapies are available today that can help you prevent migraines and get relief from an attack.
Current and new research
More than 10 percent of the population has migraines. This is one reason why researchers are looking for new ways to improve migraine treatment.
Depending on your needs, your doctor may prescribe one or more of these treatments to help you manage your migraines.
A preventive strategy is often the first line of defense against chronic migraines. Rather than simply treat the symptoms of a migraine attack, preventive medications aim to reduce the number of migraines you get. This can improve your quality of life and reduce your need for pain relievers and other medications.
Interestingly, none of these medications were developed to treat migraine. But experts have found that they do help prevent migraines in many people.
Although each has a risk of certain side effects, not everyone will have these problems, and some may be very mild. Don’t let the possible side effects keep you from trying a medication. Talk with your doctor about these issues, and come up with a plan. If the side effects are too bothersome, you can try switching medications or lowering the dose.
Beta-blockers are a type of blood pressure medication that has been shown to reduce migraine attacks in up to 80 percent of people. Beta-blockers may be one of the first medications your doctor tries because of their effectiveness. Side effects can include fatigue, depression, dizziness, and nausea.
Calcium channel blockers
Like beta-blockers, these were developed for high blood pressure but also work well as migraine preventers. They are well tolerated by most people. Side effects include low blood pressure, weight gain, and constipation. Nearly 50 percent of people taking calcium channel blockers develop a resistance to its effects. This can be overcome by increasing the dose of the medication.
These medications were created to treat depression, but certain kinds also work well to prevent migraines. In particular, drugs called tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work well for some people. Another type that also shows some effectiveness in migraine prevention is serotonin antagonists. Side effects can include weight gain, decreased libido, and drowsiness.
Anticonvulsants are medications that prevent seizures, but they work well to prevent migraines in some people. Side effects can include weight gain or weight loss and fatigue.
BOTOX is an injectable medication that can help prevent chronic migraines. These are migraines that occur 15 or more days in at least three consecutive months.
BOTOX injections are given every 12 weeks. You’ll receive a series of injections in the head and neck area during each treatment. The needle is small and most people say the pain involved is minimal. Side effects can include neck pain, neck stiffness, and muscle weakness.
Natural or herbal remedies
Feverfew and butterbur are two herbs that may have the ability to prevent migraines in some people. Some supplements, including magnesium, riboflavin (a B vitamin), and coenzyme Q10 may also be helpful. Although they’re considered natural, they can interact with other medications you’re taking. If you’re interested in these options, talk with your doctor before taking them.
Unlike preventive medications, you take abortive medications when you feel a migraine coming on. They may be part of your treatment along with preventive medications. If you only get occasional migraines, abortive medications may be all you need.
General pain relievers
You’ve probably taken these types of pain relievers for headaches or muscle aches. They may be over-the-counter or prescription and come in a variety of brands and forms. Some come in combination drugs that include other ingredients such as caffeine. In moderate amounts, caffeine can alleviate headaches. But when overused, it can cause withdrawal headaches and make migraines worse.
If you only use these medications occasionally, there’s very little risk of side effects. Regular use, or twice a week or more, puts you at risk of side effects such as stomach bleeding. They can also cause rebound or medication overuse headaches (MOHs) if you use them too much. Talk with your doctor about preventive options if you have to use pain relievers more than twice a week.
These are prescription medications that work well for treating migraine attacks. If general pain relievers don’t help you, your doctor may recommend a triptan. They constrict blood vessels and stop pain signals in the brain. They are available as pills, nasal sprays, and injections. Side effects can include dizziness, drowsiness, and weakness.
These medications aren’t as popular as triptans because they’re more likely to cause side effects such as nausea and vomiting. They may also lead to MOHs in some people. However, a form of ergot known as dihydroergotamine appears to be less likely to cause these issues. If you can’t take triptans or they don’t work for you, ergots may be another option to try.
Many people experience nausea and vomiting with a migraine. If this happens to you, an anti-nausea prescription may help you find relief. They will likely be prescribed with another medication that treats the migraine pain. Side effects can include extreme drowsiness.
Some people have migraines that won’t stop even after using abortive medications. Migraines can last days with no relief. In these cases, a nerve block may be useful. A nerve block is an injection given in the doctor’s office. It numbs the nerves in the head causing the migraine. Side effects can include pain or a burning sensation where the injection was given.
Finding the right treatment
With the variety of effective treatments available today, there’s a good chance you and your doctor will find an effective migraine treatment for you. There’s no single treatment that works for everyone, so be prepared to try different treatment plans until you find the right one. Good communication with your doctor will help you find the best solution for your migraines.