When a migraine hits, you won't be able to think about much other than how to get rid of it-fast. Migraine symptoms include a throbbing headache that might be isolated to one side, as well as nausea or vomiting and feeling super sensitive to lights and sounds. And it can truly debilitate you, forcing you to call out of work and cancel plans. The worst part: Migraines don't go away as fast as regular headaches. They last anywhere from four hours to a whopping three days if left untreated.
Treating your migraine quickly is key-the sooner you address your symptoms, the more effective your treatment is likely to be. Get familiar with these common treatment options, below, so you don't have to suffer.
Migraine treatments, explained
Migraine treatments range from over-the-counter meds and prescription drugs to natural remedies and simple lifestyle modifications.
Treatments for migraines are usually split into two categories: preventive, which can stop migraines before they begin, and "acute/abortive"-or in other words, stop the pain now.
There's no known cure yet for migraine, but many patients are able to find significant relief. Your treatment strategy will likely depend on several factors, like your gender, your age, whether or not you're pregnant or breast-feeding, the frequency of your headaches, the severity of your headaches, whether or not you experience an aura with your migraine, and what other medical conditions you have.
How to get rid of a migraine ASAP
Acute/abortive treatments include:
Drink water and have a snack
Since dehydration and skipping meals can sometimes lead to migraines, drinking a large glass of water can't hurt. And if you haven't eaten in a while, eat a little something, too.
Have a little caffeine
For some people, caffeine is a trigger (read: a no-no). But for others, it can be a form of relief. In fact, some over-the-counter migraine medications contain caffeine. But if you prefer to sleep off migraines, remember that caffeine may make that harder to do.
Create a sanctuary
If lights and sounds bother you during a migraine, lying down in a dark, quiet room can help. Shut the door and the blinds. Wear a sleep mask and ear plugs if necessary.
Try over-the-counter drugs
There are a lot of choices, including pain-relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, and combination drugs. Pro tip #1: Any pills that come in a liquid-gel form work faster. Pro tip #2: If you're taking over-the-counter meds more than 10 to 15 times per month, talk to your doctor about your migraines. Taking over-the-counter medications too frequently can sometimes lead to serious side effects (like liver problems) and could actually make you get headaches more often.
Take your prescription meds
If you've already been seeing a doctor for your migraines, then you might have a prescription drug on hand to relieve migraine pain. Some of these include indomethacin, triptans, ergotamine and caffeine combination drugs, anti-nausea drugs, opioids, and glucocorticoids. If you experience an aura with your migraine, a doctor may prescribe a different type of drug to specifically treat that symptom.
How to prevent a migraine
The best candidates for preventive migraine treatment are people who have four or more migraines a month, those who have migraines that last more than 12 hours at a time, and people who aren't getting enough relief from taking over-the-counter medications when their migraines occur.
There are a variety of prescription medications that you can take to prevent migraine. For example, there are cardiovascular drugs (like beta blockers and calcium channel blockers), anti-depressants, and anti-seizure drugs. Getting injections of Botox every 12 weeks into the muscles of the forehead and neck may help. "Botox is reserved for people with chronic migraines. And most insurance companies will not cover it unless two or three other prescription medications haven't worked for you. It's expensive," says neuro-ophthalmologist Dr Bradley Katz who specialises in treating migraine-related light sensitivity. Hormone therapy can be useful to some women who have migraines linked to their menstrual cycle.
Get your stress under control
This may include exercising, deep breathing, trying progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, or meditating. Practicing yoga is one way to combine several of these approaches.
Avoid your triggers
Doctors often recommend keeping a migraine diary because it may help you discover your triggers. Write down what time your migraines occur, how long they last, how you slept the night before, what you ate/drank that day and when, how you felt emotionally that day, etc. Common triggers include being exposed to certain kinds of light, consuming certain foods/beverages/additives (aged cheeses, alcohol, smoked meats, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, chocolate, salty or processed foods, or MSG), skipping meals, becoming dehydrated, skimping on sleep or getting too much sleep, an infection, certain smells (perfumes, pain thinner, second-hand smoke), loud sounds, stopping a certain medication, and weather changes (an increase or decrease in temperature of 10 degrees, barometric pressure dropping). So you may want to consider making certain lifestyle changes, like adjusting your diet, going to bed at an earlier time, or wearing customised tinted glasses or contact lenses.
Migraine Fact: Women are 3x more likely than men to get migraines.
Give alternative medicine a try
Acupuncture, massage therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy are all options for migraine patients. Your doctor may discuss taking certain nutritional supplements such as magnesium, coq10, or vitamin B2 or B12.
Use a neuromodulation device
You can use a device that turns down brain activity. For example, there's one called Cefaly that you put on your forehead for 20 minutes daily (this is called transcutaneous supraorbital nerve stimulation or t-SNS). There's another called SpringTMS or sTMS, a magnet that goes behind the head and emits a quick pulse. And there's one called gammaCore (a non-invasive vagal nerve stimulator), which you put on your neck over a gel for 90 to 120 seconds.
The bottom line: Don't give up
"The current treatment options are effective for some people. What happens is a lot of people have migraines and kind of deal with it, which is really sad. Often, people don't treat them in the first place or they stop going to the doctor. They just accept them and become dejected," says osteopath Wade Cooper.
But that doesn't have to be the case. There are more treatment options than ever before, and if one type of therapy doesn't work for you, you can keep trying others until you find the right fit. Don't hesitate to discuss treatment options with your primary care physician, who may refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist.