Migraine headaches are common and can be debilitating. Approximately 18% of men and 25% of women will suffer from at least one migraine in their lifetime. Migraines differ from tension headaches, and there are many potential triggers for them. Reasons can include hormones, diet, stress, sleep problems, and more.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to prevent the onset of a migraine, such as identifying your personal triggers and using over-the-counter medications.
So, when should you talk to your doctor about migraines? What other treatments or medications might your doctor offer? Keep reading to learn more!
Migraine symptoms and phases
Migraine symptoms commonly last 4 to 72 hours. Pain is most often felt on one side and is accompanied by throbbing. It usually worsens with activity and can cause nausea and sensitivity to light, sound, or smells. You may have to lie down in a quiet, dark place to recover.
There are four phases of a migraine headache: prodrome, aura, pain, and postdrome. Not everyone experiences all four phases; some people only experience one or two.
Auras, also known as sensory disturbances, occur in about 25% of patients. Visual auras are the most common, but some people experience motor, sensory, or verbal changes. These can include seeing sparkling or flashing lights, wavy lines, or blind spots. Other aura symptoms include tingling in your hands or face and difficulty speaking.
If an aura lasts longer than an hour, seek out emergency services. This can be a red flag.
Many potential triggers for migraine headaches include hormones (changes during menstruation), diet (red wine, aged cheese, caffeine withdrawal), stress, and sleep problems.
Controlling and treating migraines
Regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, managing stress, and getting enough sleep can all help prevent migraines. If you get migraines frequently, you may want to keep a migraine diary to help identify triggers. Here’s a template to help get you started:
- Number and timing of attacks
- Possible triggers
- Response to treatment
If these tips don't seem to be helping or you have severe migraines, you should talk to your doctor. Several medications can help prevent migraines or make them less severe. These include over-the-counter pain relievers, anti-nausea medications, and prescription drugs such as triptans, beta-blockers, and anticonvulsants.
If you have migraines often, your doctor may also recommend preventive therapy with medication such as botulinum toxin injections or certain antidepressants.
Acupuncture and massage therapy may also help relieve migraine pain. Biofeedback and stress-reduction techniques, such as relaxation therapy, can help some people who have migraines. Surgery may be an option for those who have not responded to other treatments.
Here are a few additional tips to help you prevent migraines:
- Identify and avoid your triggers.
- Get regular sleep and exercise, and eat healthy meals.
- Reduce stress with relaxation techniques or therapy.
Don't try to tough out your migraines. There are effective treatments available that can help you feel better and get back to your life.
The goals of the acute treatment of patients with migraine include the following:
- Relieve or stop the pain.
- Reduce or prevent recurrence of migraine attacks.
- Return the patient to their usual level of functioning.
The ideal treatment for migraines is medication. Acute medications are used to relieve the symptoms of a migraine attack, while prophylactic medications are used to prevent future episodes. The treatment prescribed will depend on the patient's needs and preferences.
There are many different types of medications available for the treatment of migraines. These include over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen; prescription OTC pain relievers, such as naproxen sodium or sumatriptan; and prescription medications, such as divalproex sodium or topiramate.
Patients should work with their doctor to find the best medication for their individual needs. A combination of medications may be necessary to treat migraines effectively.
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- Patient.co. Professional Article: Migraine published Nov. 2017
- American Headache Society Consensus Statement published June 2021
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Acute Migraine published Jan. 2022
- MSD Manual, Professional Version. “Medication Overuse Headache.” published Aug. 2021
- Healthgrades.com. How Long Can a Migraine Episode Last? published Jan. 2022
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.