When it Comes to Treating Migraines, Here’s What Really Works

by Jessica Ailani MD
August 8, 2018

For longtime migraine sufferers, you’ve probably tried every over-the-counter (OTC) medication to find something that works for you. The World Health Organization states that almost everyone experiences headaches, and almost 40 million Americans suffer with migraines, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. If you’ve just started experiencing migraines or you’re still searching for relief, I’ll share several effective ways to alleviate migraines.

What’s the Difference Between Headaches and Migraines?

To relieve your pain, you should understand how headaches and migraines differ from one another. A headache is just that, an ache in the head. It occurs any time you experience pain in the body from the neck up. There are actually hundreds of types of headaches. The key in distinguishing a certain type of headache from another is to determine your symptoms or level of discomfort.

The two most common types of headaches are tension-type headaches and episodic tension headaches. They can occur for a number of reasons, such as stress or hunger. In fact, about 96 percent of our population has experienced tension type headaches at some point in their lives. It either goes away on its own or after you’ve taken an OTC medication. If what you consider a regular tension headache actually intensifies and begins to disrupt your daily routine, you may be having a migraine.

Migraine is a lifelong brain disease that can cause episodes of disability. It is a more severe headache that comes with other symptoms, and while migraines often occur on one side of the head, they also can happen on both sides. They get worse when you move around or if you are in a room with bright lights, loud sounds, or strong smells.

In addition to pain, you can have an upset stomach, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and a number of other symptoms, including dizziness, trouble concentrating, and irritability. If left untreated, a migraine can last up to three days. It can be so severe that it interrupts your day-to-day life or causes you to miss out on important events. Often, migraine sufferers retreat to a quiet, dark room to rest and close themselves off from interacting with other people. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Migraines affect about 16 percent of women and 8 percent of men in the US, and are probably the most common headache type after episodic tension headaches.

How to Get Relief from Headaches and Migraines

The good news is that it’s possible to find relief. Whether you’re struggling with a tension headache or a moderate to severe migraine, there is a plethora of natural methods and accessible medications to consider. Depending on the severity of your headache, certain methods will be more effective than others. If you usually suffer with mild or gradual onset tension headaches that do not become severe over time, I recommend these natural and topical treatments:

  • Apply an ice pack, heat pack, or mentholated cream or balm to the affected area
  • Drink chilled water and stay hydrated
  • Remove yourself from a stressful situation by taking a break or going for a walk
  • Sleep or rest, if you’re able to do so
  • Take deep breaths for relaxation
  • Use a diffuser with lavender essential oil

If your headache becomes more intense or if you experience a migraine, consider adding a medicine with one of the following ingredients:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen
  • Salicylic acid

It’s always best to use medicines according to the directions on the label. Consult with your doctor before taking them, especially if you’re already using prescription drugs for a different condition. If these treatments don’t work or you end up using them more than twice a week, you should see your primary care doctor to discuss a more targeted therapy.

When should you see a doctor about your headaches?

There are effective prescription medications available for the prevention and treatment of acute migraine attacks. It’s important to treat the headache as soon as it starts and get symptoms under control. Speak to your primary care provider, or consider seeing a neurologist to discuss prescription medications for your acute attacks. If you are having four or more migraines per month, I recommend asking your doctor about a preventative option that reduces the frequency of the headaches so they don’t significantly impact your quality of life.

For those with pre-existing chronic conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, it’s imperative that you talk with your doctor about your headaches. Certain headache symptoms may be related to pre-existing conditions. For example, if you are diabetic or have high blood pressure, this could lead to more frequent headaches or migraines.

If you begin to experience headaches randomly or more frequently than normal, discuss those symptoms with your doctor. In addition, be sure to disclose all of the medications you are taking with your doctor. He or she will ensure your medications do not interfere with each other or lead to adverse side effects.

You don’t have to suffer in silence or in the solitude of a cold, dark room away from those you love. If you’ve tried natural treatments or medications to little or no avail, know there are ways to combat the symptoms and relieve the pain more quickly. As always, consider your doctor as a trusted resource to help find a treatment that works for you.

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Category: Living Well     Tags: Wellness