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Migraine relief: What are the options?

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PrescriptionsOver the counterHome remediesContacting a doctorSummary
Migraine episodes can be debilitating and interfere with daily life. The good news is that medications and home remedies can help improve your symptoms or even prevent migraine episodes from occurring.
Medically reviewed by Deena Kuruvilla, MD
Updated on February 28, 2023

Migraine is a type of headache condition that can cause severe, recurring pain.

It’s often accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • light, noise, or smell sensitivity
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a throbbing feeling in the head
  • fatigue
  • visual disturbances, sometimes referred to as aura
  • one-sided head pain

Migraine is thought to be related to changes in the brainstem and the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation in your face and head. Yet, the exact cause remains unknown.

Migraine can have triggers, including:

  • stress
  • lack of sleep
  • certain foods
  • fasting
  • hormonal changes, including those caused by the menstrual cycle
  • weather changes
  • alcohol
  • caffeine withdrawal

However, some people get migraine episodes without any known triggers.

Prescription migraine relief medications

A woman with a headache resting with her hand over her eyes.
Photography by Marco Govel/Stocksy United

Certain prescription medications may relieve migraine symptoms.

Here are some of the most commonly prescribed options:

  • Triptans: These medications aim to relieve migraine symptoms by narrowing blood vessels and blocking pain pathways in the brain. However, they can’t prevent migraine episodes. Popular triptans include sumatriptan, zolmitriptan, frovatriptan, naratriptan, and rizatriptan.
  • Ditans: This medication, lasmiditan (Reyvow), also aims to block pain signals in the brain. It may be a good option for people with heart disease or those who experience side effects from triptans.
  • Gepants: These drugs work by narrowing blood vessels in the brain and blocking pain signals. Examples include rimegepant (Nurtec) and ubrogepant (Ubrevly).
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs: These medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may also relieve migraine symptoms in some people. Popular options include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium, which you may also be able to buy over the counter.
  • Anti-nausea drugs: If you feel nausea with migraine, your doctor may suggest medications to reduce it, like ondansetron.

Need a refill for sumatriptan succinate (Imitrex)? You may be able to get an online prescription through Optum Perks in as little as 15 minutes with no video or appointment needed. Learn more here.

Nonprescription medications

If you don’t have a prescription for any of the above, certain nonprescription alternatives may help.

Apart from ibuprofen and naproxen, other over-the-counter (OTC) options to consider include:

  • Aspirin: A common pain reliever that may relieve mild-to-moderate migraine headaches.
  • Acetaminophen: Another popular pain reliever that can relieve migraine symptoms. It’s also known as Tylenol.
  • Caffeine: Although caffeine is a migraine trigger in some people, it can reduce migraine symptoms in others.

Home remedies for migraine relief

In addition to medication, you can try these home remedies to prevent and manage migraine episodes.

Quiet, dark spaces

Many people become highly sensitive to light, sound, and smell before or during migraine episodes.

Spending time in a quiet, dark room can help relieve your symptoms by reducing sensory stimulation.

It may also help you fall asleep, and getting some rest could similarly help you to feel better.

Food

Certain foods work as migraine triggers in some people.

If you’re unsure about something in your diet that could contribute to migraine, it can be a good idea to keep a food diary to help you identify any potential links between what you eat and migraine onset.

Then, avoiding these triggers might reduce the frequency of migraine episodes.

It’s also worth noting that some diets may help to prevent migraine. For instance, a 2020 review suggests that the following diets could lead to fewer migraine episodes:

  • Mediterranean
  • modified Atkins
  • ketogenic
  • low fat, high folate
  • high omega-3
  • low omega-6

Cold therapy

You might find it soothing to place something cold onto the painful parts of your head during a migraine, such as wrapping an ice pack in a clean cloth or towel, and gently placing it where it feels comfortable.

Exercise

A 2020 review suggests that regular exercise can reduce migraine frequency, duration, and severity by:

  • reducing stress
  • improving overall physical health
  • improving mental health
  • reducing inflammation
  • improving blood flow to the brain

Getting more exercise doesn’t necessarily mean difficult weight or cardio exercises. It can be everything from yoga and hiking, to dancing and taking the stairs more often. Finding enjoyable ways to move makes it easier to incorporate more exercise into your daily routine.

Sleep

Poor sleep and sleep conditions may relate to an increased risk of migraine, so getting enough sleep could help prevent them.

How much sleep you need per night is highly individual. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults should aim for 7 to 9 hours.

If you find it a challenge to get enough sleep, consider:

  • limiting your caffeine intake late in the day
  • ensuring your bedroom is cool and dark
  • getting regular exercise
  • maintaining a regular bed and wake time, even on weekends
  • limiting or avoiding alcohol

You can address some sleep challenges with supplements or prescription medications. To learn more, you can consult your doctor who can address the causes and suggest suitable treatments for sleeping difficulties.

Stress management

Although the exact connection between stress and migraine remains unclear, stress management techniques may help reduce migraine frequency.

To manage stress, you can explore options like:

  • meditation or mindfulness
  • deep breathing, for instance by using a smartwatch or mobile phone app
  • yoga or Pilates
  • self-care, like a bath or massage therapy
  • regular exercise
  • getting enough sleep
  • prioritizing a nourishing diet
  • practicing hobbies you enjoy
  • spending time in nature
  • saying no to events and tasks you don’t feel able to do

If you feel that stress is a common occurrence in your life or that it’s so significant that you have difficulty managing it alone, it can be helpful to talk with a doctor or healthcare professional for tailored advice.

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Contacting a doctor

Migraine episodes can be incredibly painful, long lasting, and sometimes interfere with your daily living.

If you experience frequent or severe migraine episodes, it’s a good idea to speak with a doctor.

They can help identify potential triggers and develop an appropriate treatment plan for symptom management and prevention.

Summary

Migraine episodes can be debilitating, but there are several options for relief. These include prescription medications, nonprescription medications, and home remedies.

If you experience frequent or severe migraine episodes, a doctor can help you determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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