A Closer Look at Migraine and Headache Treatment

What to expect, when an attack hits, tracking meds, and non-medication treatments

Treatment plans for patients are almost always unique. No one medication works for everyone, and no one preventative treatment works for everyone, either. As we’ve learned from our overview, there are a ton of different migraines one needs to be aware of, and they all respond to different types of treatments. All treatments prescribed to patients depend on the severity and frequency of attacks, along with symptomatic, age, and general health factors.

Overall, one should expect different results. Find out what works best for you, track your progress, and take necessary action. Consult doctors and specialists that will work together to get you the best results.

Read our migraine and headache overview page to discover and better understand which type of migraine you may have, along with more specific medication and preventative treatment options.

What Should I Expect?

According to John Hopkins Medicine, besides medication treatment, a comprehensive treatment plan may include any of the following:

  • Stress reduction
  • Dietary evaluation
  • Regular exercise
  • Cold packs applied to the skin
  • Pressure applied to the head
  • Biofeedback training

The goal of treatment is to prevent the frequency of attacks, and eventually stop headaches from happening altogether, if possible. Typical management of migraine depends on both you and your doctor properly identifying the type of headache you have, which will lead to the following:

  • Avoiding known triggers, such as certain foods, beverages, stress, lack of sleep, etc.
  • Changing eating and dietary habits
  • Exercising
  • Resting in a quiet, dark environment when necessary
  • Medications, as recommended by a doctor, updated regularly

When a Migraine Hits

According to the University of Michigan Health, when you feel a migraine coming on, you should:

  • Stop what you are doing and take your medicine exactly as a doctor has instructed. Don't wait for the migraine to get worse.
  • Rest in a quiet, dark room relaxing or trying to sleep. Putting a cold pack or cool cloth on the painful area may help.

Be mindful of taking your medications too often, as they can cause you to get another headache when you stop taking the medicine, called a rebound headache. If you discover that you are taking headache medicine (such as NSAIDs) frequently during the week, or you are getting more than 3 headaches in a month, talk to your doctor to get a better diagnosis to be on a much clearer treatment path.

Is My Treatment Working?

The American Migraine Foundation lists several questions you can ask yourself to assess whether or not your treatment is working, including:

  • Are you pain-free in 2-4 hours?
  • Are you functioning normally in 3-4 hours?
  • Does your headache respond to treatment consistently at least 50% of the time?
  • Are you comfortable with taking the treatment prescribed and still able to plan your day?

The foundation also suggests that you can determine the success of your medication by treating as few as two or three headaches and monitoring your improvement, or lack thereof. Comparing two similar headaches with similar results predicts the 3rd headache result with about 70% accuracy, according to the foundation.

In addition, delaying treatment of your migraine can make it more difficult for your headache to respond to medications. To avoid this, review whether or not you may be waiting too long in what the foundation calls the “window of opportunity” where there is an increased chance that your headache will respond to treatment (usually within two hours following the onset of headache pain).

Many doctors will work with their migraine patients to treat earlier in the course of the attack, even when pain is mild.

What Else Can I Try?

If you’re curious about what other preventative treatments you can take to coincide with your prescribed medication, the Mayo Clinic suggests numerous options one has available, from self-care techniques to non-traditional therapies.

  • Muscle relaxation exercises: May include progressive muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga.
  • Acupuncture: In this treatment, a practitioner inserts many thin, disposable needles into several areas of your skin at defined points.
  • Biofeedback: This relaxation technique uses special equipment to teach you how to monitor and control certain physical responses related to stress, such as muscle tension.
  • Massage therapy: May help reduce the frequency of migraines.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of psychotherapy teaches you how behaviors and thoughts affect how you perceive pain.
  • Herbs, vitamins, and minerals: A high dose of riboflavin (vitamin B-2) may prevent migraines or reduce the frequency of headaches. Despite larger studies needed, Coenzyme Q10 supplements may decrease the frequency of migraines. Due to low magnesium levels in some people with migraines, magnesium supplements have been used to treat migraines, but with mixed results.

There are even more treatment options to consider, including Botox, neurostimulation, and more. To learn more, check out this list from the Migraine Trust. Also check out editorial board member Dr. Lawrence Robbin’s Chicago Headache Clinic Blog

-Additional reporting by Steven Aliano

Updated on: 06/20/18
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