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Managing migraines at home

A migraine is a common type of headache. It may occur with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. In many people, a throbbing pain is felt only on one side of the head.

Some people who get migraines have warning symptoms, called an aura, before the actual headache begins. An aura is a group of symptoms, including vision changes. An aura is a warning sign that a bad headache is coming.

Migraine headaches can be triggered by certain foods. The most common are:

  • Any processed, fermented, pickled, or marinated foods, as well as foods that contain MSG
  • Baked goods, chocolate, nuts, and dairy products
  • Fruits (such as avocado, banana, and citrus fruit)
  • Meats containing sodium nitrates, such as bacon, hot dogs, salami, and cured meats
  • Red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken liver, figs, and certain beans

Alcohol, stress, certain odors or perfumes, loud noises or bright lights, and smoking may also trigger a migraine.

When You Get a Migraine

Try to treat your symptoms right away. The headache may be less severe. When migraine symptoms begin:

  • Drink water to avoid dehydration, especially if you have vomited
  • Rest in a quiet, darkened room
  • Place a cool cloth on your head

Over-the-counter pain medicines, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin, are often helpful when your migraine is mild.

Your health care provider may have prescribed medicines that are used to stop a migraine. These drugs come in different forms. They may come as a nasal spray, rectal suppository, or injection instead of pills. Other medicines can treat nausea and vomiting.

Follow your health care provider’s instructions about how to take all of your medicines. Rebound headaches are headaches that keep coming back. They can occur from overuse of pain medicine. If you take pain medicine more than 3 days a week on a regular basis, you can develop rebound headaches.

Preventing Migraine Headaches

A headache diary can help you identify your headache triggers. When you get a headache, write down the following:

  • Day and time the pain began
  • What you ate and drank over the past 24 hours
  • How much you slept
  • What you were doing and where you were right before the pain started
  • How long the headache lasted and what made it stop

Review your diary with your doctor to identify triggers or a pattern to your headaches. This can help you and your doctor create a treatment plan. Knowing your triggers can help you avoid them.

Lifestyle changes that may help include:

  • Avoid triggers that seem to bring on a migraine headache.
  • Get regular sleep and exercise.
  • Slowly decrease the amount of caffeine you drink every day.
  • Learn and practice stress management . Some people find relaxation exercises and meditation helpful.

If you have frequent migraines, your doctor may prescribe medicine to reduce the number of your attacks. You need to take this medicine every day for it to be effective. Your doctor may have you try more than one drug before deciding which works best for you.

When to Call the Doctor

Call 911 if:

  • You are experiencing "the worst headache of your life."
  • You have speech, vision, or movement problems or loss of balance, especially if you have not had these symptoms with a headache before.
  • A headache starts suddenly.

Schedule an appointment or call your doctor if:

  • Your headache patterns or pain changes.
  • Treatments that once worked are no longer help.
  • You have side effects from your medicine.
  • You are pregnant or could become pregnant. Some medicines should not be taken during pregnancy.
  • You need to take pain medicines more than 3 days a week.
  • You are taking birth control pills and have migraine headaches.
  • Your headaches are more severe when lying down.

References

Garza I, Swanson JW, Cheshire WP JR, et al. Headache and other craniofacial pain. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 69.

Gilmore B, Michael M. Treatment of acute migraine headache. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83:271-280.

Silberstein SD, Holland S, Freitag F, et al. Evidence-based guideline update: Pharmacologic treatment for episodic migraine prevention in adults: Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society. Neurology. 2012;78:1337-1345.

Updated: 10/29/2013

Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Department of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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