Sadly, there is no precise cure for migraines. However, there is a range of treatments available that may help lessen your symptoms and help you control your migraine attacks.
You may need to try several different medications or a mixture of some before you find the right treatment for you. And if over-the-counter (OTC) medication doesn’t work, your doctor may need to prescribe something stronger for you.
During an Attack
When a migraine attack occurs, most people find that lying or sleeping in a dark room helps ease it. Or you may find that eating helps, or that you feel better after you’ve been sick.
The majority of people with migraines can reduce their symptoms using OTC medication, such as ibuprofen, paracetamol and aspirin. These tend to be more effective if they’re taken as soon as you feel like the migraine is starting – rather than when the pain becomes too unbearable.
By taking them early on in your attack it allows the tablets to be absorbed into your bloodstream, easing your symptoms before they get worse. If you don’t, the medication will often be ineffective because it’s too late for it to have a beneficial effect. However, soluble painkillers that you dissolve in a glass of water are better in these cases because they are absorbed quickly into your bloodstream.
There is a number of cautions that come with taking these types of painkillers, especially on a regular basis. So you should always read the instructions carefully, avoiding ibuprofen and aspirin if you have a history of kidney or liver problems or a stomach ulcer. Aspirin isn’t suitable for children under 16, either.
Furthermore, taking any type of painkiller on a regular basis can make your symptoms worse. This is what’s known as a ‘painkiller headache’ or ‘medication overuse headache’. If you are taking painkillers on a regular basis you should speak to your GP.
When OTC medication doesn’t work, a doctor may recommend triptans. These medicines are specific to migraines and are thought to help reverse the changes that occur in your brain, causing the migraine.
This medication is available as a nasal spray, injection or tablet, but does come with some side effects, including:
- Warm sensations
- Heaviness in the chest, limbs or face
Some people may also experience drowsiness, nausea and dry mouth. These tend to be mild, though, and will disappear on their own.
Again, overuse of this medication can lead to painkiller headaches.
Also known as anti-emetics, anti-sickness medicines can often help treat migraines even if sickness or nausea aren’t one of the symptoms you experience. These may be prescribed alongside the triptans or painkillers and will work better if taken at the start of your migraine.
Side effects include diarrhoea and drowsiness.
Your local pharmacy will stock some combination medications that are targeted at relieving migraines – and you won’t need a prescription for these. These tablets combine anti-emetics with painkillers.
Equally, you may find combining triptan with another OTC painkiller works best.
In most cases, these combined pills are more convenient. But sometimes, the doses won’t be high enough to completely eradicate your migraine attack, so you may find it better to take the anti-emetics and painkillers separately so you can control the dose.
Want to try a drug-free approach to your treatment?
Then you may want to try acupuncture.
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), up to 10 sessions of acupuncture over a 5-8 week period may benefit some patients.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
If you’re referred to a specialist, they may recommend transcranial magnetic stimulation. This was approved by NICE in 2014 and involves delivering magnetic impulses through your skin and into your head.
While it isn’t known exactly how this works, there have been some suggestions that it can reduce how severe migraines are – but it won’t cure them. Evidence also suggests that it’s more beneficial for people who have migraine with aura and the long-term effects of this treatment are still relatively unknown.
Some side effects include irritability, muscle tremor, tiredness and drowsiness and slight dizziness.
Treatment for Women Who Are Pregnant or Breastfeeding
In general, migraine treatment should be limited if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. And the triggers of your migraine should instead be identified and, where possible, avoided.
If medication is required, you will need to speak to your doctor first.