When you have a migraine headache, the intense pain and debilitating side effects which include nausea, sensitivity to light, and dizziness can make it impossible to get on with your day.

More than 12 percent of the U.S. population suffers from these severe headaches and if you get them, you want to be sure you're doing everything you can to avoid another painful episode.

Follow these steps to minimize their frequency—and your suffering:

1. Take the Right Prescription Medication

Triptans are the most commonly prescribed migraine meds. Also known as serotonin agonists, triptans help maintain serotonin levels in the brain. Most people see a significant reduction in pain within two house of taking a triptan. They are several available and one recent study recommended eletriptan (Relpax), rizatriptan (Maxalt), and zolmitriptan (Zomig). Sumatriptan (Imitrex) is also popular. Triptans are available in many forms, including oral medications, nasal sprays, and injections. If you have heart disease, they probably aren't for you as they can cause serious side effects. Be sure to discuss any conditions you have—or other medications you take—with your doctor before asking for a prescription.

Ergotomaine medications like dihydroergotamine (DHE, or Migranal® in nasal spray form) contain ergot derivatives. These drugs constrict blood vessels, which help relieve migraine pain and are also available in tablet form. Ergotomaine is considered less effective than triptans.

Prescription analgesics (painkillers) such as codeine or oxycodone are sometimes prescribed for intractable migraine pain. However, these drugs which are a type of narcotic pain medication, are not FDA-approved for migraine treatment and sufferers should try other medications first as users can be vulnerable to dependence and addiction.

2. Over-the-Counter Drugs Can Be Effective

For mild to moderate symptoms, there are three FDA-approved over-the-counter migraine products: Excedrin® Migraine,which contains aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine, Advil® Migraine, and Motrin® anti-inflammatory). It's important to take the medicine as directed, and be aware that using over-the-counter headache remedies more than three times a week can lead to recurring headaches.

3. Learning Biofeedback and Relaxation Techniques Can Give You Control

Aimed at stress reduction, biofeedback uses electrodes applied to your skin to measure basic bodily functions like heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and muscle tension. The electrodes "read" the information, and the results are then displayed on a monitor. You can alter these usually involuntary functions-and lessen discomfort and tension from a migraine headache—with relaxation techniques, including breathing and mental exercises. Your doctor can train you in using these methods to help regulate blood flow to the brain for migraine management and can be an effective alternative to pain medication. Studies about biofeedback have shown it can be used to lessen the frequency and duration of migraines.

4. IV or High-Dose Magnesium Administered In Your Doctor's Office

Research suggests that people who suffer from migraines often have lower levels of this basic mineral than do non-sufferers, and one small study found that one gram of intravenous magnesium sulfate, delivered over 15 minutes, is safe and effective at relieving migraine pain.

But you shouldn't have to go to the ER for this treatment: "More and more doctors are offering IV magnesium in their offices—I do," says Liesa Harte, MD. High-dose magnesium can also be taken orally, although Harte warns there are side effects. "It can sometimes cause loose stools."

5. Trigger Point Massage Alternative

"Trigger point therapy is a great method of treatment for migraines," says licensed massage therapist Anthony Zillmer of A 2 Z Massage Therapy in New York City. "Trigger point targets minor tears in the muscle that cause a cycle of spasms and pain, until the tissue becomes a 'knot.' These 'knots' can lie dormant until an offending activity triggers it to start spasming and sending pain, which generally radiates or shoots away from the actual trigger point—commonly behind the eyes. Through trigger point therapy the therapist basically squeezes the stagnant fluids out of the 'knot' and allows fresh, nutrient-rich blood to rush in and start the healing process."

"As a massage therapist, I walk the line between traditional western and eastern treatments," Zillmer adds. "From the eastern perspective, migraine headaches are related to the blood and the liver. This idea is that pain is caused by stagnation of the blood within the brain, and the liver is in charge of the smooth flow of blood and Qi (energy)." To relieve migraines, Zillmer will often combine trigger point therapy with acupressure at "the energetic liver meridian (along the foot and the leg), and the large intestine meridian (on the hand and arm). Through this integrative approach I've been able to help numerous patients diminish their migraine symptoms and frequency."

6. Don't Ignore the Basics

Last but not least, the following traditional remedies can help you feel better, too:

  • Drink water to avoid dehydration, which can exacerbate a headache.
  • Apply something cool, like a washcloth or an ice pack, to your head.
  • Rest! A dark and quiet room is best.

Liesa Harte, MD, reviewed this article.



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