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Migraine Headaches (cont.)

Treatment Overview

You can't cure migraines, but you can use medicines and other treatments to feel better.

The goal of treatment is to reduce how often you get migraines and to stop the headaches with the fewest drug side effects. Your doctor may have you try several types of medicines and may adjust the doses to manage your migraines.

Find and avoid migraine triggers

You can reduce how many migraines you have by finding your migraine triggers and avoiding them. For more information on triggers, see Prevention.

Keeping a headache diaryClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) is a good way to find your triggers. You write down when you have a headache and how bad it is, along with details such as what you ate and what you did before the headache started. You look for patterns to your headaches. This information can help you know what to avoid to prevent a migraine.

Take medicines

You may take:

  • Medicines to stop a migraine. These are sometimes called abortive medicines. These may be over-the-counter or prescription medicines. If you take the medicine at the first sign that you're about to get a migraine, you may keep the headache from starting or from getting bad.
  • Medicines to prevent migraines. These drugs are often called preventive medicines. You get them with a prescription. You take these every day or whenever your doctor tells you to.

For mild to moderate migraines, you may first want to try over-the-counter pain relievers that have fewer side effects and cost less than other medicines. But if they don't help, you may need prescription medicines.

If medicines to stop a migraine don't give you enough relief, or if you're taking them more than 2 times a week, talk to your doctor about whether you should take medicines to prevent a migraine.

Try other treatments

You may want to try complementary treatments along with medicines. These may include:

  • Acupuncture.
  • Biofeedback.
  • Herbs such as butterbur and feverfew.

For more information, see Other Treatment.

Before you try these treatments, be sure to ask your doctor if they are safe for you.

Reduce stress

How you think can affect how you feel. So finding ways to relax and change your negative or worrisome thoughts may help prevent headaches.

You may want to try:

  • Positive thinking techniques.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Ways to manage your time.
  • Breathing exercises.
  • Guided imagery.
  • Meditation.
  • Yoga.

For more information, see Living With Migraine Headaches.

Treatment if your headaches get worse

If treatment doesn't stop your migraines, you and your doctor may make changes. You may try different medicines, a new mix of medicines, or different doses.

If you have already tried several types of medicine, your doctor may want you to have tests (such as an MRI or CT scan) to look for any other cause for your headaches.

It is possible to be diagnosed with migraines when you really have another type of headache. (But it's more common for a person to be diagnosed with another type of headache when he or she really has migraines.)

It can be hard to tell the difference between migraines and other types of headaches such as sinus, tension, or cluster headaches. The symptoms can be the same. And you may have more than one kind of headache. Different types of headaches need different treatment.

Other things to think about

  • Even with treatment, you may still get migraines.
  • It may take some time to find the right medicines to help you.
  • Using medicines too often can cause rebound headaches. These are different from migraine headaches. They occur after pain medicine has worn off, which leads you to take another dose. After a while, you get a headache whenever you stop taking the medicine. Be sure to take your medicine only as your doctor prescribes.
  • If you think your headaches could be caused by depression or anxiety, be sure to let your doctor know. Treatment for these health problems may get rid of your headaches or reduce how often you have them.
  • If you think your headaches are related to stress, talk to your doctor about getting help to cope better with stress.
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