Migraine is more than just a headache, although that is the major symptom in most people. It has a neurological basis, and frequently involves symptoms such as visual disturbances (flashing lights, for example), nausea and vomiting. Attacks can last anywhere from a few hours to three days, and vary from person to person in severity and frequency. More information about the different types of migraine can be found here.
Depending on the severity, type, and frequency of your symptoms, there are three methods of treating migraines, each covering several options. Drug free methods may work for some people. Over the counter medications might be enough for others. And some people will need prescription medicines. Let's look at each in turn.
A quick note on migraine and pregnancy: Many of the treatment options explored here are not considered safe during pregnancy. If you are pregnant, or breastfeeding, consult your doctor before beginning any kind of treatment.
What are the options for drug free treatment?
If your migraines are infrequent and not particularly severe, it might be possible to control your symptoms without ever taking medications. A healthy lifestyle including, a diet rich in unprocessed foods, regular exercise, and stress reduction techniques, is a good start. But there are a few other things you can try. The evidence for their effectiveness is limited, but they have proven useful for some people.
Feverfew - This is a herb which is taken regularly as a preventative measure. It can be taken as tablets, tincture, or tea. It is not suitable for everyone, so check with your doctor if you have pre-existing medical conditions.
Acupuncture - Put simply, acupuncture is the use of very fine needles to stimulate nerves or pressure points in the skin. While specific migraine related studies are limited, acupuncture has proven effective for stress reduction, something highly recommended for migraine sufferers.
Supplements and herbs - Several herbs and supplements have been trialled in the treatment of migraine. The most promising results come from the use of coenzyme Q10, riboflavin, and magnesium.
More information on some drug-free treatments available for migraine can be found here.
Can over the counter medications control the problem?
For infrequent, or only moderately severe, migraine attacks, over the counter medication may be sufficient to deal with your symptoms.
Speak to a pharmacist about which painkiller is most suitable for your pain. Paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen, and codeine have all been used for the symptomatic relief of migraine.
Are prescription drugs the answer to treating migraine?
For many migraine sufferers, prescription drugs are the only viable option to control the symptoms. Prescription medication fall into two categories, preventative, and treatment for attacks.
Preventative options - These need to be discussed with a medical professional, as not all treatments will be suitable for everyone. They include; Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline, Beta-blockers including propranolol or atenolol, and Anticonvulsants including sodium valproate and gabapentin.
Treatment for attacks - These include; Triptans such as Sumatriptan, Imigran, and Replax; NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen and Diclofenac, and Analgesics such as Codeine. Anti-emetic (anti-sickness) drugs may also be prescribed if required.