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Migraine pain relief

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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Migraines can be extremely painful and can last hours to days. Unfortunately, there is no cure, but there are ways to help manage migraines and their symptoms.

The best pain relief for a migraine starts with simple over-the-counter medications and decreasing stimuli or triggers (just a medical term for things that make the symptoms worse!) by lying in a dark, quiet room. Further options are a group of prescription medications known as triptans, along with using ice or cold treatment to ease the pain.

Doctor’s advice

Painkiller medications

As mentioned, simple over-the-counter pain relief is a good place to start to help with the symptoms caused by migraines. Examples of these are acetaminophen and ibuprofen. It is best to start taking these at the first signs of a migraine, even if the headache hasn’t fully developed yet. This is because taking painkillers early can reduce the severity of the headache. Getting soluble versions of these painkillers is thought to help increase the speed with which they are absorbed in your stomach during a migraine.

Aspirin is another option, instead of ibuprofen, that can work for some people. It works similarly to ibuprofen as it is the same broad type of medication (known as an NSAID - nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Because of this, they should not be taken together. It is best to check with your pharmacist before taking aspirin or ibuprofen for the first time, as it may not be recommended for some people.

Triptan medications

Triptans are medicines that can be used if other painkillers don’t fully control the pain from a migraine. Although not technically painkillers themself, triptans can help with the symptoms of a migraine. They work by narrowing the blood vessels in your brain and reducing some of the chemicals released by your brain that can contribute to a migraine. Unlike painkillers, triptans should be taken once a migraine headache has developed and not before. Triptans can be prescribed by your doctor.

Alternative pain relief

Ice and heat packs can be helpful in treating headaches and migraines. Either may work for you, but ice packs generally win out in easing migraines, and heat packs can work better at soothing other types of headaches, such as tension headaches. Experiment with what works best for you: wrap either in a towel and place it on the back of your neck, the crown of your head, or your temples for relief.

Medication overuse headache

People who suffer from regular migraines requiring the use of painkillers or triptans more than ten days a month could be at risk of medication overuse headaches. Although the medications help treat migraines, if regularly used long term, they can themselves cause headaches. The way to avoid this if you are having frequent migraines is to see your doctor to discuss ways to prevent the migraines from occurring in the first place.

Moving to a preventative strategy rather than a treatment strategy when the migraines happen may work better at reducing the number of times you need the pain relief medications.

If you are having medication overuse headaches, the way to cure them, unfortunately, is by stopping the use of the medications completely. You may experience an increase in headaches and migraines for around a week then they should start to improve.

If you think you may be suffering from medication overuse headaches, it is best to see your doctor to discuss this further.

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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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