Everyone experiences migraines differently. While one person may have migraines triggered by bright lights and experience an aura of severe muscle weakness on one side of the body, another person could have migraines without aura that are triggered by specific odors and accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The variety of migraine causes, triggers, and symptoms from person to person means that you may have to try multiple treatment approaches before finding one that effectively treats your migraine.
Your doctor will evaluate your migraines based on factors such as the age of onset, triggers, symptoms, and your typical migraine frequency and duration. They will likely also recommend additional tests, such as an MRI and blood chemistry analysis, to rule out other medical conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Then, you and your doctor will have to work together to develop an individualized treatment strategy that works for you.
Let’s talk about the different ways to treat and prevent migraines.
Doctors often start by prescribing certain medications to reduce the frequency of migraines and manage the pain associated with them. There are two different types of migraine medications: abortive and preventative.
Abortive migraine medications stop a migraine attack that is already occurring. It’s best to take abortive medications when you start experiencing migraine symptoms. In contrast, preventive migraine medications eliminate or reduce the frequency of migraines. Doctors prescribe preventive medications for regular, often daily, consumption. It is your choice of which approach you would like to take to manage your condition. In the past, doctors recommended a preventive strategy for patients with two or more attacks per month. Today, we know that there are other cases in which a preventive approach is appropriate, including:
- The patient suffers from infrequent migraines, but abortive medications don’t alleviate the symptoms.
- The patient has a history of overusing pain relievers and abortive drugs
- The patient has a history of adverse reactions to pain relievers and abortive drugs
- The patient can’t afford to miss work due to migraine attacks.
- The patient has complicated migraines that present with unusual or other neurological symptoms.
Commonly prescribed preventive medications include:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Calcium channel blockers
Take abortive medications as soon as you notice the aura that precedes the headache. If you can’t take it at the first sign of the aura, or you don’t typically experience an aura, take it as soon as the headache starts. Taking abortive medicines can be challenging, especially for those with daily or frequent headaches, because abortive medications should not be overused. Doing so can lead to chronic daily headaches, commonly called rebound headaches.
Prescription medications can be highly effective in managing the pain associated with migraines and allow you to function until the migraine subsides. For example, a doctor might prescribe anti-nausea medicines for those who experience that symptom as part of their migraine.
Not all medications need to be prescription or costly. When taken at the earliest sign of a headache, non-prescription drugs, and inexpensive prescription drugs can be effective. Sometimes doctors may recommend a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine taken once or twice per month.
You and your doctor can evaluate the options available to you and the possible side effects, and your doctor may change the medication if the situation doesn’t improve.
Do not combine any drugs, prescription or over-the-counter, without first speaking with your doctor!
Non-Pharmacological Treatment Options
Doctors may recommend non-pharmacological treatment options to patients who don’t achieve sufficient relief with medications or patients with a history of adverse drug-induced side effects. These options include but are not limited to transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and botox.
TENS involves a machine connected by wires to adhesive pads that stick to the skin covering the painful area. The device produces electrical pulses of varying intensity and then transmits them through the wires to the pads. These electrical pulses target and stimulate the nerves under the skin, causing a reduction in the migraine intensity.
Botox therapy involves injecting small amounts of purified botulinum toxin in the face and neck. Botox works to treat head pain by two distinct mechanisms. First, for muscle contraction to occur, nerves must release a chemical called acetylcholine, which attaches to the surrounding muscles. Upon injection, the toxin enters the nerve endings and blocks the nerve from releasing acetylcholine, thereby preventing muscle contraction. Additionally, Botox works to alleviate migraine symptoms by preventing the transmission of the neurotransmitters associated with pain from the nerve to the muscle.
Natural Remedies and Lifestyle Changes
Other alternative approaches to managing and preventing migraines include lifestyle changes ranging from managing caffeine intake and medications to stress reduction techniques.
With an introduction of regular moderate exercise, yoga, massage therapy, meditation, aromatherapy, herbal remedies, or biofeedback monitoring, many migraine sufferers find that their stress level diminishes. With less stress came a lower frequency of migraine attacks. In addition, hot and cold compresses, particularly when applied in a dark room, have also proven effective pain management techniques for some migraine sufferers.
Dietary changes can also reduce migraine frequency. These include eliminating alcohol, reducing the consumption of processed foods, and eating a more nutritionally balanced diet. Keeping a headache diary along with a food diary will help you identify possible triggers in your diet and replace them with healthy alternatives. Incorporating ingredients into your diet that reduce inflammation, such as flaxseed, is also worth considering.
Migraine Surgery: The Reed Procedure®
In 1999, Dr. Kenneth Reed and his associate introduced a new treatment that changed the world of headache treatments. The combined peripheral nerve stimulation migraine treatment, called The Reed Procedure®, has helped over 1000 patients suffering from chronic migraine conditions that have not responded to other traditional therapies. The documented success rate of The Reed Procedure® is over 80 percent, and the physicians at Reed Migraine Center are world-leading specialists. No other physician or institution worldwide has more experience relieving headaches and restoring a patient’s full enjoyment of life – without severe migraines. Register today for our free webinar to learn more about the Reed Procedure®, watch patients describe how the procedure restored their lives, and determine if this treatment is right for you.
The journey to migraine relief is one you do not have to take alone. Work with your doctor until you find the right solution. If you have frequent headaches and the traditional treatment approaches haven’t brought you lasting relief, consider scheduling a free consultation with Dr. Reed to see if the Reed Procedure® determine if you might be a candidate for this groundbreaking treatment. No one should have to live with chronic pain. Searching for the appropriate migraine treatment can be a process, but don’t give up. There are many treatment options available, and it may just take time to find the treatment that works best for you.