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Managing migraines at home

Headache - migraine - self-care; Vascular headache - self-care

A migraine is a common type of headache. It may occur with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. Most people feel a throbbing pain on only one side of their head during a migraine.

Some people who get migraines have warning signs, called an aura, before the actual headache begins. An aura is a group of symptoms that includes 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 monosodium glutamate (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, hormonal changes, skipping meals, lack of sleep, certain odors or perfumes, loud noises or bright lights, exercise, and cigarette smoking may also trigger a migraine.

When You Get a Migraine

Try to treat your symptoms right away. This may help make the headache less severe. When migraine symptoms begin:

  • Drink water to avoid dehydration, especially if you have vomited
  • Rest in a quiet, dark room
  • Place a cool cloth on your head
  • Avoid smoking or drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks
  • Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages
  • Try to sleep

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 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 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:

  • 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 provider to identify triggers or a pattern to your headaches. This can help you and your provider 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.
  • Quit smoking and drinking alcohol.

If you have frequent migraines, your provider may prescribe medicine to reduce the number of them. You need to take this medicine every day for it to be effective. Your provider 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 or is explosive in nature.

Schedule an appointment or call your provider 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

Becker WJ. Acute migraine treatment in adults. Headache. 2015;55(6):778-793. PMID: 25877672 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25877672.

Garza I, Schwedt TJ, Robertson CE, Smith JH. Headache and other craniofacial pain. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 103.

Marmura MJ, Silberstein SD, Schwedt TJ. The acute treatment of migraine in adults: the American Headache Society evidence assessment of migraine pharmacotherapies. Headache. 2015;55(1):3-20. PMID: 25600718 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25600718.

Waldman SD. Migraine headache. In: Waldman SD, ed. Atlas of Common Pain Syndromes. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 2.

  • Migraine

    Animation

  •  

    Migraine - Animation

    Migraines aren't your average, run-of-the-mill headaches. When you have a migraine, it feels like your head is throbbing, every light is glaring, and all you want to do is lie down in a dark room. Let's talk about migraines. We know that migraines are more common in women than in men. But what exactly triggers these severe headaches is less clear, and it's different in different people. For some people the trigger is stress. For others, it's strong odors like perfumes. Changing hormones around the time of a woman's menstrual period can set off a migraine. So can certain foods like chocolate, cured meats, red wine, and aged cheese. Doctors believe that whatever triggers a migraine sets off a chain of abnormal activities in brain chemicals and nerves. These activities affect the flow of blood through the brain. A migraine feels different than a regular headache. For one thing, it often comes with a warning. Some people get a sign that their migraine is coming, called an aura. About 10 to 15 minutes before the actual headache hits, their vision gets blurry or narrowed, and they may see stars or zigzag lines. A migraine feels like a throbbing or pounding pain that tends to be worse on one side of the head. You may also have symptoms like nausea, vomiting, numbness, chills, and sensitivity to light or sound. A migraine can typically last anywhere from 6 hours to 2 days. When it's over, people get what's described as a "hangover," in which they feel tired and can't think clearly. If you're plagued by migraines, your doctor will help you figure out the cause. You may need to have a brain scan such as an MRI or CT, especially if you have other symptoms like memory problems or weakness with your migraines. So, what can be done to treat migraines? Doctors use a few different types of medicines to prevent and treat migraines. You can take antidepressants, blood pressure medicines, or seizure medicines every day to prevent migraines from starting. Some people have great success preventing migraines using biofeedback devices or hypnosis. Once you do get a migraine, you can take medicines right away to stop it. Triptans such as Imitrex and Maxalt are the most commonly prescribed medicines for stopping a migraine. Depending on your migraine symptoms and how bad they are, your doctor may also recommend a pain reliever such as ibuprofen, or a nausea medicine. To prevent migraines, you also need to avoid your triggers, but first you need to identify what they are. Your doctor may recommend keeping a headache diary, in which you write down when your headaches occur and what you were eating or doing when you got a migraine. Take care of yourself when you have a migraine. If you only get them occasionally, there's probably no cause for worry. But if you get migraines often, and they're interfering with your life or they're getting worse, talk to your doctor about ways to prevent and treat them.

  • Migraine cause

    Migraine cause - illustration

    One theory of the cause of migraine is a central nervous system (CNS) disorder. The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. In migraine, various stimuli may cause a series of neurologic and biochemical events which affect the brain's vascular system.

    Migraine cause

    illustration

  • CT scan of the brain

    CT scan of the brain - illustration

    A CT or CAT scan (computed tomography) is a much more sensitive imaging technique than X-ray, allowing high definition not only of the bony structures, but of the soft tissues. Clear images of organs such as the brain, muscles, joint structures, veins and arteries, as well as anomalies like tumors and hemorrhages may be obtained with or without the injection of contrasting dye.

    CT scan of the brain

    illustration

  • Migraine headache

    Migraine headache - illustration

    Symptoms of a migraine attack may include heightened sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, auras (loss of vision in one eye or tunnel vision), difficulty of speech and intense pain predominating on one side of the head.

    Migraine headache

    illustration

  • Migraine

    Animation

  •  

    Migraine - Animation

    Migraines aren't your average, run-of-the-mill headaches. When you have a migraine, it feels like your head is throbbing, every light is glaring, and all you want to do is lie down in a dark room. Let's talk about migraines. We know that migraines are more common in women than in men. But what exactly triggers these severe headaches is less clear, and it's different in different people. For some people the trigger is stress. For others, it's strong odors like perfumes. Changing hormones around the time of a woman's menstrual period can set off a migraine. So can certain foods like chocolate, cured meats, red wine, and aged cheese. Doctors believe that whatever triggers a migraine sets off a chain of abnormal activities in brain chemicals and nerves. These activities affect the flow of blood through the brain. A migraine feels different than a regular headache. For one thing, it often comes with a warning. Some people get a sign that their migraine is coming, called an aura. About 10 to 15 minutes before the actual headache hits, their vision gets blurry or narrowed, and they may see stars or zigzag lines. A migraine feels like a throbbing or pounding pain that tends to be worse on one side of the head. You may also have symptoms like nausea, vomiting, numbness, chills, and sensitivity to light or sound. A migraine can typically last anywhere from 6 hours to 2 days. When it's over, people get what's described as a "hangover," in which they feel tired and can't think clearly. If you're plagued by migraines, your doctor will help you figure out the cause. You may need to have a brain scan such as an MRI or CT, especially if you have other symptoms like memory problems or weakness with your migraines. So, what can be done to treat migraines? Doctors use a few different types of medicines to prevent and treat migraines. You can take antidepressants, blood pressure medicines, or seizure medicines every day to prevent migraines from starting. Some people have great success preventing migraines using biofeedback devices or hypnosis. Once you do get a migraine, you can take medicines right away to stop it. Triptans such as Imitrex and Maxalt are the most commonly prescribed medicines for stopping a migraine. Depending on your migraine symptoms and how bad they are, your doctor may also recommend a pain reliever such as ibuprofen, or a nausea medicine. To prevent migraines, you also need to avoid your triggers, but first you need to identify what they are. Your doctor may recommend keeping a headache diary, in which you write down when your headaches occur and what you were eating or doing when you got a migraine. Take care of yourself when you have a migraine. If you only get them occasionally, there's probably no cause for worry. But if you get migraines often, and they're interfering with your life or they're getting worse, talk to your doctor about ways to prevent and treat them.

  • Migraine cause

    Migraine cause - illustration

    One theory of the cause of migraine is a central nervous system (CNS) disorder. The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. In migraine, various stimuli may cause a series of neurologic and biochemical events which affect the brain's vascular system.

    Migraine cause

    illustration

  • CT scan of the brain

    CT scan of the brain - illustration

    A CT or CAT scan (computed tomography) is a much more sensitive imaging technique than X-ray, allowing high definition not only of the bony structures, but of the soft tissues. Clear images of organs such as the brain, muscles, joint structures, veins and arteries, as well as anomalies like tumors and hemorrhages may be obtained with or without the injection of contrasting dye.

    CT scan of the brain

    illustration

  • Migraine headache

    Migraine headache - illustration

    Symptoms of a migraine attack may include heightened sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, auras (loss of vision in one eye or tunnel vision), difficulty of speech and intense pain predominating on one side of the head.

    Migraine headache

    illustration

Self Care

 
 

Review Date: 10/6/2019

Reviewed By: Alireza Minagar, MD, MBA, Professor, Department of Neurology, LSU Health Sciences Center, Shreveport, LA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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