Migraine Relief – Treatment
There isn’t a known “cure” for migraines, but there are a number of treatments available to provide migraine relief and to ease the symptoms.
Because each of us are different, it may take some time to work out what works best for you. You may need to try different kinds or combinations of medicines before you find the most effective and suitable for you.
You may find that some over the counter medications don’t work well for you. If this is the case, then your doctor may be able to prescribe something stronger.
During an attack
When having a migraine attack, many find that lying in a darkened room and sleeping if that is possible works best for them.
Other people find that eating something helps them, or they start to feel better once they have vomited.
Over the counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen, can help to reduce symptoms for a lot of people. These tend to be most effective when taken when the first signs of a migraine appear. This will give them time to be absorbed into the bloodstream, helping with migraine relief by easing the symptoms.
Don’t wait for the headache to get worse before taking the painkillers because it will likely be too late for the medication to have any effect. The best alternative should you get to the stage where the headache has “taken hold” are soluble painkillers because they absorb into the body more quickly.
If you feel nauseous and can’t swallow painkillers because of vomiting, then suppositories may be an option. These are capsules that are inserted into the anus.
Whenever you take over the counter painkillers, always be sure to read the instructions and follow the dosage recommendations.
Be aware that children under 16 shouldn’t take aspirin unless it’s under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Aspirin and ibuprofen are not recommended for adults with a history of stomach (such as stomach ulcers), liver or kidney problems.
Frequent use of any form of painkiller can actually make migraines worse. This may be referred to as “medication overuse headache” or “painkiller headache”.
If you find yourself needing to use any painkillers repeatedly, or if over the counter painkillers aren’t effective, you need to talk to your doctor. They may prescribe stronger painkillers or recommend using painkillers along with triptans. They may also recommend you stop using the painkillers if they suspect the frequent use is helping to cause your headaches.
You will need to take a trip to see your doctor if the standard painkillers are not having any effect in the migraine relief you want. You may need to take the painkillers alongside a medication known as a triptan and maybe anti-sickness medication.
Triptan medicines are specific for migraine headache relief. It’s thought they by reversing the changes in the brain that are thought to cause migraine headaches.
This is achieved by causing the blood vessels around the brain to contract. Part of the migraine process is believed to be dilating (widening) of blood vessels, so the triptan helps to reverse that process.
Triptans come in the form of tablets, injections and nasal sprays.
There are some common side effects that include:
- feelings of heaviness in the face, limbs or chest
Some will experience nausea, dry mouth and drowsiness. These side effects are not serious usually and will improve on their own.
In the same way as other painkillers, taking too many triptans may bring on medication overuse headache.
Your doctor will typically want a follow-up appointment when you finish your first course of treatment with triptans. This will be to discuss the effectiveness of them and any side effects if relevant to you.
If the medication was helpful, treatment will normally be continued. If. However, it was not, or caused unpleasant side effects, your doctor may try prescribing a different type of triptan because each type will trigger variable responses.
Anti-sickness medicines (known as anti-emetics), can work for migraine relief in some people, even if there is no experience of nausea or vomiting. These can also be taken alongside painkillers and triptans and are prescribed by your doctor.
Anti-sickness medicines work better if taken as soon as your migraine symptoms begin, much the same way as painkillers. They normally come in the tablet form, but are also available as a suppository.
Drowsiness and diarrhoea are known side effects.
Combination Medicines For Migraine Relief
Combination medicines for migraine are available usually at any pharmacy. These medicines contain both painkiller and anti-sickness medication. There are many to choose from, so ask the pharmacist if you’re not sure which one is best for you.
You may find it effective to combine a triptan with another painkiller, such as ibuprofen.
A lot of people find combination medicines convenient. However, the doses recommended may not be high enough to relieve your symptoms. If this is the case, the combination medication may not be suitable and therefore it may be better to take painkillers and anti-sickness medicines separately. This will allow you to control the doses of each.
Acupuncture for Migraine Relief
If you find that medication is not working or is unsuitable for you to help prevent a migraine, you can try acupuncture.
The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) states that a course of up to 10 sessions over a five to eight week period may be beneficial. Find out more about acupuncture.
Seeing a specialist
If any of the treatments mentioned are not effective in controlling your migraines, you may need to see someone at a specialist migraine clinic for further investigation and treatment. Speak to your doctor about the best action to achieve this.
In addition to the medications we have talked about, the specialist may recommend another treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation
NICE approved the use of a treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to help treat and prevent migraines in January 2014.
The TMS process involves holding a small electrical device to your head that delivers magnetic pulses through your skin. It’s not absolutely clear how this treatment works with migraines, but studies have indicated that using it when a migraine is starting can reduce the severity. It’s also possible to use this in combination with the medications mentioned above without any further problems.
TMS isn’t a cure for migraines and doesn’t work for everyone. The evidence shows that the effectiveness isn’t strong and those that find it effective are people who have migraine with aura.
In addition, the evidence about the potential long-term effects of the treatment is small. Studies into this treatment have so far only reported minor and temporary side effects, including:
- slight dizziness
- drowsiness and tiredness
- a muscle tremor that can make it difficult to stand
NICE recommends that TMS should only be provided by headache specialists in specialist centres. This is because of the uncertainty about the potential long-term side effects. That way the specialist can keep a record of your experiences using the treatment.
For more information, check out this news article: NICE approves migraine magnet therapy.
Treatment for pregnant and breastfeeding women
Treating migraines with medication should generally be limited as much as possible pregnant or breastfeeding. Instead, it’s recommended to try to identify and avoid potential migraine triggers.
If, however, medication is essential, speak to your doctor who may prescribe a low-dose painkiller. Anti-inflammatory drugs or triptans may sometimes be prescribed. Always be sure to speak to your doctor or midwife before taking medication when pregnant or breastfeeding.