Migraines can put a damper on your day. There are things that you can try at home to help before deciding to go to a doctor. However, if you experience frequent migraines or can’t find relief at home, our doctors can consult with you to see if you may be a good fit for our Headache and Migraine Management Program. Keep reading to learn these expert tips for you to use to find relief from your migraines.
If you’re one of the millions of people in the U.S. with migraines, you may be in search of ways to find relief from your symptoms. While there are a number of prescription migraine treatments, experts recommend additional strategies at home to manage and improve migraine headache symptoms.
What Are Migraines?
Migraine is a neurological disorder. More than just headaches, migraine attacks can consist of several different phases and involve head pain and other associated symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound or scents. The headache phase of a migraine attack can last anywhere from four hours to three days.
Though the precise cause of migraine is not yet known, scientists believe this disorder results from abnormal neurological activity caused by certain genetic mutations.
“We think of migraine as a hyper-excitable brain state, which can be triggered by internal factors like stress or infection or external factors—let’s say skipping a meal plus not sleeping well,” says Nada Hindiyeh, M.D., a headache specialist at Stanford Medicine in California who serves as co-chair of the American Headache Society Electronic Media Committee.
Because of these potential internal and external triggers, lifestyle modifications can aid in the treatment and prevention of migraine attacks.
Who Experiences Migraines?
Migraine headaches are extremely common, according to Jessica Ailani, M.D., director of the MedStar Georgetown Headache Center in McLean, Virginia, and a clinical professor of neurology at MedStar’s Georgetown University Hospital. As many as 40 million people in the U.S. experience migraines, which generally begin during adolescence or a person’s early adulthood.
Migraine is more common among women than men: Three out of four people who experience migraine attacks are women, generally between the ages of 20 and 45, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
How to Treat Migraines at Home
If you’re experiencing or have experienced a migraine attack, here are some expert tips for alleviating migraine headaches at home.
“Lifestyle modifications are one of the most important things that can help and prevent migraine,” said Dr. Hindiyeh. The migraine brain is triggered by irregularity, so maintaining a routine and regularity can be helpful, she explains.
According to Dr. Hindiyeh, specific lifestyle modifications may include:
- Going to sleep at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning
- Eating at the same times each day
- Maintaining a diet of fresh, nutritious foods
- Staying hydrated
- Practicing daily aerobic exercise
- Engaging in stress management strategies, including relaxation exercises and meditation
Some research suggests certain dietary supplements may help reduce the frequency of migraines, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Specifically, these supplements may include:
- Butterbur: Butterbur is a supplement derived from a shrub that has been shown to help reduce the frequency of migraine. However, there are concerns due to potential liver toxicity.
- Coenzyme Q10: A substance naturally present in the body, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) may reduce the length and frequency of migraine attacks, according to available research.
- Feverfew: Some studies have suggested that this medicinal plant can help with migraine prevention, though there are potential side effects and medication interactions.
- Magnesium: This mineral may help to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. There are potential side effects, however, and it’s recommended to take supplements under a health care provider’s supervision.
- Riboflavin: Also known as vitamin B2, riboflavin can potentially help to prevent migraine.
When taking supplements, however, it’s important to be aware of any contraindications and potential side effects. If you’re considering adding a supplement to your routine for migraine relief and prevention, first speak with your health care provider.
Warm or Cold Compresses
According to Dr. Hindiyeh, people with migraine may benefit from applying a warm or cold compress on either their head or neck, depending on personal preference. Dr. Hindiyeh suggests that cold may be helpful if you’re experiencing intense or throbbing pain, whereas a warm compress can help alleviate tightness or tension in the neck or upper back that may be contributing to migraine symptoms.
Essential Oils or Balms
“Some people prefer using essential oils or balms on their head,” says Dr. Ailani. She highlights both peppermint and lavender oils as potentially soothing options, though she notes there’s not much evidence to suggest these oils improve migraine pain.
For people with migraine who experience nausea, ginger is an at-home remedy to try. “Try chewing on ginger (either fresh or ginger chews, which add sugar to ginger), which can settle the stomach and may help migraine pain,” says Dr. Ailani. Studies have also found that ginger can be helpful for nausea and vomiting as well as for helping to treat migraine attacks.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) medications can work to inhibit the inflammation and pain that builds during migraines, according to Dr. Ailani. OTC options include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen and combination medications like acetaminophen with aspirin and caffeine.
Dr. Ailani emphasizes the importance of following the dosage instructions on the bottle when using OTC medications and limiting their use to the frequency indicated on the packaging. “If you find yourself using over-the-counter medications more than once a week to treat a migraine, it may be time to speak to a health care provider about your attacks,” she notes.