Migraine treatment is aimed at stopping symptoms and preventing future attacks.
Many medications have been designed to treat migraines. Medications used to combat migraines fall into two broad categories:
- Pain-relieving medications: Also known as acute or abortive treatment, these types of drugs are taken during migraine attacks and are designed to stop symptoms.
- Preventive medications: These types of drugs are taken regularly, often daily, to reduce the severity or frequency of migraines.
Your treatment choices depend on the frequency and severity of your headaches, whether you have nausea and vomiting with your headaches, how disabling your headaches are, and other medical conditions you have.
Medications for relief
Medications used to relieve migraine pain work best when taken at the first sign of an oncoming migraine — as soon as signs and symptoms of a migraine begin. Medications that can be used to treat it include:
- Pain relievers: These over-thecounter or prescription pain relievers include aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others). When taken too long, these might cause medication-overuse headaches, and possibly ulcers and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. Migraine relief medications that combine caffeine, aspirin and acetaminophen (Excedrin Migraine) may be helpful, but usually only against mild migraine pain.
- Triptans: These are prescription drugs such as sumatriptan (Imitrex, Tosymra) and rizatriptan (Maxalt) are prescription drugs used for migraine because they block pain pathways in the brain. Taken as pills, shots or nasal sprays, they can relieve many symptoms of migraine. They might not be safe for those at risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Medications can help prevent frequent migraines. Your doctor might recommend preventive medications if you have frequent, long-lasting or severe headaches that don’t respond well to treatment.
Preventive medication is aimed at reducing how often you get a migraine how severe the attacks are and how long they last. Options include:
- Blood pressure-lowering medications: These include beta blockers such as propranolol (Inderal, Innopran XL, others) and metoprolol tartrate (Lopressor). Calcium channel blockers such as verapamil (Tarka, Verelan) can be helpful in preventing migraines with aura.
- Antidepressants: A tricyclic antidepressant (amitriptyline) can prevent migraines. Because of the side effects of amitriptyline, such as sleepiness and weight gain, other antidepressants might be prescribed instead.
- Anti-seizure drugs: Valproate and topiramate (Topamax) might help you have less frequent migraines, but can cause side effects such as dizziness, weight changes, nausea and more.
- Botox injections. Injections of onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox) about every 12 weeks help prevent migraines in some adults.
- Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) monoclonal antibodies: Erenumab-aooe (Aimovig), fremanezumab-vfrm (Ajovy) and galcanezumab-gnlm (Emgality) are newer drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat migraines. They’re given monthly by injection. The most common side effect is a reaction at the injection
Lifestyle and home remedies
When symptoms of migraine start, try heading to a quiet, darkened room. Close your eyes and rest or take a nap. Place a cool cloth or ice pack wrapped in a towel or cloth on your forehead or at the back of your neck.
Other practices that might soothe migraine with aura pain include:
- Try relaxation techniques: Biofeedback and other forms of relaxation training teach you ways to deal with stressful situations, which might help reduce the number of migraines you have.
- Develop a sleeping and eating routine: Don’t sleep too much or too little. Set and follow a consistent sleep and wake schedule daily. Try to eat meals at the same time every day.
- Drink plenty of fluids: Staying hydrated, particularly with water, might help.
- Keep a headache diary: Continue recording in your headache diary even after you see your doctor. It will help you learn more about what triggers your migraines and what treatment is most effective.
- Exercise regularly: Regular aerobic exercise reduces tension and can help prevent a migraine. If your doctor agrees, choose aerobic activity you enjoy, such as walking, swimming and cycling. Warm up slowly, however, because sudden, intense exercise can cause headaches. Regular exercise can also help you lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight, and obesity is thought to be a factor in migraines.