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Most people with this type of headache can manage the pain of mild-to-moderate attacks at home by:
- Using a cold compress on the area of pain
- Resting with pillows comfortably supporting the head or neck
- Resting in a room with little or no sensory stimulation (from light, sound, or odors)
- Withdrawing from stressful surroundings
- Drinking a moderate amount of caffeine
If home remedies for migraines fail, certain medications are available to try to stop a migraine in its tracks. This is called an “abortive” approach to migraine treatment, as opposed to “preventative” measures.
The prescribed medications stop a headache during its prodrome stage or once it has begun and may be taken as needed. Some can be administered as a self-injection into the thigh; others, as a wafer that melts on the tongue, or as a nasal spray. These forms of medicines are especially useful for patients who vomit while experiencing the headache, and they work quickly.
Abortive treatment medicines include the triptans, which specifically target the chemical serotonin. The triptans are used only to treat headache pain and do not relieve pain from back problems, arthritis, menstruation, or other conditions.
Triptan medications include:
- Sumatriptan (Imitrex)
- Sumatriptan/Naproxen (Treximet)
- Zolmitriptan (Zomig)
- Eletriptan (Relpax)
- Naratriptan (Amerge)
- Rizatriptan (Maxalt)
- Frovatriptan (Frova)
- Almotriptan (Axert)
These drugs also are specific and affect serotonin, but they affect other brain chemicals as well. Occasionally, one of these drugs works when a triptan does not.
- Ergotamine tartrate (Cafergot)
- Dihydroergotamine (D.H.E. 45 Injection, Migranal Nasal Spray)
- Acetaminophen-isometheptene-dichloralphenazone (Midrin)
These drugs are weak members of the narcotic class. They are not specific for migraine, but they can help relieve almost any kind of pain. Since they are habit forming, they are less desirable choices than the specific headache drugs listed above. These drugs should be used primarily as a "backup" for the occasions when a specific drug does not work.
For more information, read our full medical article on migraines.
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Migraines and Headaches Resources
American Headache Society. "New Guidelines: Treatments Can Help Prevent Migraine." Update: May 01, 2016.