How to Get Through a Migraine

Migraines can be extraordinarily debilitating and require much more intervention than common tension headaches. If you suffer from migraines, it is best to try to prevent your migraines.Since it is difficult to prevent migraines entirely, there are some steps that can help you get through your next one.


Taking Medication

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    Recognize a migraine. Learn to recognize the warning signs of a migraine. Migraines are often preceded by prodrome symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, neck stiffness, and irritability. If you administer treatment when you notice these symptoms, you may be able to stop the migraine in its tracks.

    • Other prodrome symptoms include food cravings, gastrointestinal disturbance, a feeling of depression.
    • For more information on prodrome symptoms, research how to prevent migraines.[1]
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    Act fast. Many of the steps you can take to stop or minimize a migraine work best when taken at the first sign of migraine symptoms. For example, some migraines may respond well to medications taken in the first couple hours, but may not respond at all if the medications are taken later than that.[2][3]
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    Take basic painkillers. Take the maximum safe dosage of ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, or another over-the-counter painkiller or NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) at the first sign of a migraine. At least one study has found that a higher than normal dose of aspirin is nearly as effective as prescription migraine drugs. Common over-the-counter medicines include Motrin, Tylenol, Aleve, and Excedrin Tension Headaches.[4]

    • Some pain relievers have specific combinations that are helpful for severe migraines. Excedrin has many different types of medication that combine multiple relievers that may help.
    • Basic painkillers don’t always work for migraines, especially if they are severe. Try them at first, but seek other options if they don’t help. Make sure you never take more than the recommended dosage without first consulting your doctor.
    • In addition, if you find that you are having to take painkillers more than two days a week, you need to see your doctor for more effective medications or for daily preventive medication.[5]
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    Take a painkiller that contains caffeine. Caffeine is well known to increase the effectiveness of many painkillers. For this reason, some painkillers come with an appropriate dose of caffeine already in them. Common brands include Excedrin Migraine, Goody’s powder, and Tylenol Ultra Relief Migraine Pain.[6][7]
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    Try birth control. In some cases, low levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone cause migraines in women. They also increase the frequency and severity of migraines. If your migraines occur more often in the two weeks before menses, ask your doctor to check your estrogen and progesterone levels. If your levels are found to be low, she may be willing to prescribe supplementation, birth control pills, or other preventative medication.

    • You doctor might prescribe your mefenamic acid, which is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pill that helps with severe menstruation symptoms such as migraines.
    • There are different kinds of birth control pills that you can take. There are progesterone only pills and combination pills that contain both progesterone and estrogen. Once you get your levels tested, talk with your doctor about the right kind for you.
    • Although this method may help you, some patients see no change at all. For others, the migraines get worse. Notify your doctor if your symptoms increase.[8][9][10]
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    Try drinking herbal tea. There are many different herbs that are natural remedies for migraines and headaches. You can find recipes online or you can find them in your local grocery store. (Suggestion: Maharaja Chai/Samurai Chai Tea Blend from Teavana. It last for about a year depending how often you use it. They usually have it out so that you can sample it.)
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    Take a warm bath. Turn off the lights and close the door to ensure no one will bother you while you relax. Close your eyes and breath in and out slowly. If you want, try adding some essential oils, bath salts, or bath bombs that are not strongly scented. Candles also add a nice touch. It will also help sooth sore bodies.
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    Talk to your doctor about prescription medications. If you suffer severe migraines that don’t respond to other treatments, your doctor may prescribe a medication which stops migraines or reduces the severity or duration. Abortive medications can be taken by self-injection as well as by mouth, skin patch, or nasal spray. These medications work differently for each patient. Ask your doctor about these medications to see which is right for you.[11]

    • The most commonly used classes of migraine-abortive drugs are triptans and ergots. Try drugs such as Axert, Relpax, Midrin, or Frova.
    • Your doctor may also prescribe painkillers. These can include stronger versions of over-the-counter drugs. In extreme cases, a doctor may prescribe opiates or the sedative butalbital combined with caffeine and NSAIDs. These are only used in special cases and should be taken with caution given their addictive nature.[12][13][14]



Treating the Symptoms

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    Take time off to take care of your health. If you are suffering from a serious migraine, take time off from work. Some people may not consider migraines a big deal, but most people will understand that it’s a serious health condition. Talk to your boss and your colleagues to make sure that they understand your condition.

    • If you have migraine too often at work, try to reduce triggers. Keep your stress low, try to manipulate the lights to a more comfortable, make sure you bring snacks in case your blood sugar drops, and schedule break times.[15][16]
    • If it isn’t possible for your to take time off of work, try to take a break and go to a quiet conference room or break room. Make sure you keep some form of pain relief with you at work at all times in case you get one and you can’t leave.[17]
    • Getting a doctor’s note may help if your workplace is not understanding about your situation.
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    Get to a dark, quiet place. Bright lights, sometimes even moderate lights, and noise trigger or worsen migraines. During a migraine, most sufferers are also extremely sensitive to light and noise.When you get a migraine, sit in a dark, quiet room until your symptoms considerably. The removal of those external factors should help decrease the severity.[18]
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    Treat nausea or diarrhea if present. Migraines are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Over the counter anti-nausea or anti-diarrheal drugs may help relieve these symptoms. You may find, however, that allowing yourself to purge may help your migraine go away faster. If this is the case, avoid taking these drugs unless absolutely necessary.
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    Stay hydrated. Migraine can be triggered by dehydration. Once a migraine starts, try to drink some water to see if it helps ease the symptoms. Dehydration can get worse if you are vomiting or have diarrhea, so make sure you are replacing any fluids lost. Stay away from other drinks that might cause your symptoms to get worse. You can try a sports drink because they help you replace electrolytes.[19]
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    Apply an ice pack. Once a migraine starts, apply an ice pack to the painful area for 15 – 20 minutes. This can help numb the painful areas. If the symptoms come back once you take it off, wait a little while for your skin to warm back up and then repeat. It may also be helpful to ice the back of your neck. [20]

    • Make sure you wrap the ice in a towel so you don’t damage your skin with the cold.
    • Some people find that taking a hot shower or using a heat pack relieves their symptoms. This helps relieve the tension in your muscles, which is a main cause of migraines.
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    Take a nap. When you have a migraine, try to take a nap. The rest and reduction of external stimulation often lessens the severity of the migraine or helps it go away all together. Having a migraine may make it difficult to sleep, but attempt to sleep if you can. Another positive aspect of a nap is that you’re sleeping, you’re not as aware of your pain.[21]

    • Simply lying down may help, although some migraine sufferers find that lying down makes the pain worse.
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    Massage yourself. Kneading the face, head, shoulders, back, and neck may relieve the symptoms in some people. It helps release tension in your muscles and helps your relax. It isn’t effective for everyone, but studies have shown that is can help lessen the severity of the symptoms and even help you get them less often.[22]
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    Try acupuncture. Acupuncture has been found to help some migraine sufferers. Small studies suggest that it can ease migraine pain and help reduce the occurrence of additional headaches. Despite its helpfulness, most doctors suggest that you continue other treatments in conjunction with such treatments.[23][24]
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    Use lavender oil. Some small studies have found that lavender can reduce migraine pain.Take pure lavender oil, which can be bought from a herb, health food, or supplement store, and rub a little on the spots that hurt or massage it into your temples. You can also use an oil burner to permeate the air with the scent.[25]

    • Ginger and peppermint oil may also be helpful.[26]
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    Be aware of the migraine postdrome.[27] This can occur following the pain stage of a migraine, almost like a migraine hangover. You may experience weakness, mood change, tiredness, or difficulty concentrating.[28] If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, you may need more time to recover, or you may want to put off work or activities that require a lot of energy or mental power.



Preventing Future Problems

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    Get regular and adequate sleep. Sleep plays an important role in preventing migraines and lessening their severity, according to a number of studies. Sleep regularly and get the right number of hours of sleep for your body. For most people, that means around eight hours of sleep a night. [29]

    • If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try to be sure to wind down hours before bedtime. Put away computer screens, start dimming lights, and don’t do anything that’s very stimulating, like watching exciting TV.
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    Get regular exercise. Exercise can lessen the pain of a migraine and also lessen the frequency of migraines in general. A recent study has shown that 40 minutes of cardio exercise, three times a week is just as effective as medicine and relaxation techniques in helping prevent the onset of migraines. However, migraines can be triggered by exercise if you’re not used to it. Start with light exercise and exercise regularly. Once your body is accustomed to it, you can use a light walk or jog to relieve your pain and even prevent pain in the future.[30][31][32]
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    Stop drinking coffee. If you regularly consume caffeine, your habit could be causing your problem. Caffeine paradoxically both causes and relieves headaches. The caffeine paradox is caused by the addiction and withdrawal, since caffeine causes migraine by provoking nervous adaptation to caffeine. This renders the patient susceptible to headache if caffeine dosing is delayed, and caffeine then relieves migraine by reversing caffeine withdrawal.

    • If you use caffeine, caffeine withdrawal cannot be ruled out as a possible cause of your migraines. The logical strategy is to assume caffeine is the likely culprit, and to wean yourself from caffeine.[33]
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    Avoid triggering foods. Study which foods may be triggering your migraines. In some cases, migraines have be reduced 30 – 50% by removing all triggers from the diet. You should try to identify a migraine-trigger food before you eat it. Find out triggers, which include chocolate, cheese, alcohol, and citrus fruits, if you know the trigger, avoid that food, drink or element.[34][35]

    • If you aren’t sure if food is triggering you, keep a food diary and note when you have a migraine. See if any patterns arise.
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    Test light triggers. Fluorescent lights are a possible trigger. Test you sensitivity to the light by avoiding them for several days and then exposing yourself to them again. If you notice that you develop nausea or anxiety within a short time of exposure, or if you develop full migraine symptoms within hours, light is a trigger for you.
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    Keep a headache diary. A headache diary can help you identify potential triggers. It can also help you assess the effectiveness of different treatments. Start a diary and write down the foods you eat, when you have a migraine, where you were when it occurred, what you did or took for relief, and how long the migraine lasted. This will help you track your migraines and help yourself find a path to relief.[36]

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