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Migraine Treatment and Relief

Some migraine medications aim to prevent a migraine attack while others are available for pain relief. Although there is no known cure for a migraine, there are very good treatments that can help with the symptoms and provide relief. This guide covers; medical, nutritional, herbal and alternative migraine treatments. 

Drugs available for the treatment and relief of migraines fall into one of two categories:

  • Pain Relief Treatments / Abortive therapy: These drugs are taken once the migraine has set in. These drugs are prescribed for the relief of pain and other migraine symptoms.

  • Preventive Treatments / Preventive therapy:  These drugs when taken regularly, often on a daily basis, help reduce the intensity and frequency of migraine headaches.

Several factors decide which migraine treatment option will work best for you. These include the frequency and intensity with which your headaches occur and how severely affected you may be due to your symptoms. Not all drugs are safe for use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Consult your doctor for an optimal migraine treatment plan.

Pain Relief Treatments:  

Pain relievers are most effective when administered early in the attack. Resting or sleeping in a dark room may help ease your symptoms faster.

  • Over the counter migraine treatments: These include medicines like aspirin and paracetamol and are often used. Drugs containing aspirin should not be prescribed for children under 15 or for adults with a history of peptic ulcer disease. If you experience nausea or vomiting, you could resort to suppositories, which involve administration of the drug through the rectum (rectal suppository), urethra (urethral suppository) or vagina (vaginal suppository).

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, sold over the counter at your pharmacy, may prove effective in the treatment of migraine. Individuals with a history of peptic ulcer, liver or kidney disease should avoid using NSAIDs. Diclofenac, naproxen and tolfenamic acid are other types of anti-inflammatory medicines that are only available on prescription

  • Anti-sickness treatments: These are available both as tablets and suppositories. On prescription, these drugs are used along with painkillers at the onset of symptoms and should be taken in the case of troublesome nausea.

  • Combination treatments: These contain both painkillers and anti-nausea medication, and are available over the counter.

  • Triptans: These are prescription drugs and come as tablets, injections and nasal sprays. Triptans relieve pain and other symptoms by constricting blood vessels around the brain and by correcting seratonin imbalances. These drugs rapidly relieve pain, nausea and sensitivity to light in sufferers, and are considered as drugs of choice for those with severe migraines. Sumatriptan was the first drug in this class, others are fovatriptan or zolmitriptan. You may need to try different types to find the one that is best for you.

  • Ergots: Ergotamine formed the mainstay of migraine treatment before triptans became available. Dihydroergotamine, an ergot derivative, is considered to be more effective with fewer side effects than ergotamine.

Preventive Migraine Treatments

These treatments are used to reduce the frequency of migraine headache attacks

  • Cardiovascular drug treatments: Cardiovascular drugs such as beta blockers are generally used in the management of high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. However, these have been shown to be beneficial in reducing the frequency and severity of migraines as well.

  • Antidepressant treatments: Certain antidepressants, commonly known as tricyclics, are useful in preventing all types of headaches, including migraines, by influencing the levels of serotonin and other chemicals in the brain.

  • Anti-seizure drug treatments: Some anti-epilepsy drugs, such as divalproex sodium and topiramate, which are used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disease, are known to prevent migraines.

  • Cyproheptadine: This drug may be used in children. It functions by altering serotonin levels in the brain.

These are all prescription medicines so you will need to talk to your doctor or specialist about the right treatment for you.

Nutritional Treatments for Migraines

Foods and diet have long been associated with the causes and triggers of migraine headaches.

  • Food exclusion diet: Food sensitivity has been shown to be a major cause of migraine headaches. The most common being chocolate, cheese, red wine, caffeine and citrus fruits. Some research has shown that wheat can also be a trigger. A food exclusion diet can help in identifying and avoiding your migraine triggers.

  • Magnesium supplements: Studies have shown that many people with migraines have lower than normal levels of magnesium. Preliminary studies have shown that magnesium supplements (usually 200mg per day) may help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches.

  • B Vitamins: Vitamin B2 and Vitamin B12 have both shown to be helpful in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

  • Fish Oils: Studies have shown that fish oils have been helpful with recurrent migraines. People who suffer from recurring or frequent migraines may be benefit from increasing intake of oily fish or by taking flaxseed oil or a fish oil supplement.

Herbal Treatments for Migraines

  • Feverfew: The most frequently used herb for the long-term prevention of migraines is feverfew. A number of trials have demonstrated its effectiveness. Feverfew is available in tablets or tincture.

Alternative Treatments

  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been used to treat migraines and headaches and several studies show that it can be very effective. Acupuncture for migraine can be based on traditional Chinese acupuncture or the Western approach. Usually at least 6 to 8 treatments are required to show ongoing relief. A study led by Dr. Baischer of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vienna showed that the improvements achieved by acupuncture therapy are stable over a long period of time

  • Neck manipulation and massage: Migraines may be helped by treatment of neck muscles and joints. This may involve manipulation or mobilisation of the neck joints, release of tension in muscles and or the deactivation of trigger points. Some studies have shown that manipulation can be as effective as medical treatments without some of the side effects.

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