Help for Migraines (and Other Headaches)

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Introduction: Help for Migraines (and Other Headaches)

Here are a number of safe home remedies and suggestions for preventing and alleviating migraines and their symptoms. I want to emphasize that migraine symptoms can be specific to the individual so some these suggestions may be great for one person and not work for someone else. They’re worth a try though. Nothing here can hurt you and you might find some real relief!

For those of you who don’t get migraines, they are a whole body neurological phenomenon that affects your vascular system, messing up your head and stomach, and generally making you feel like you’ve got food poisoning while you have the flu.

There are medications that you can take to help prevent migraines and medicines that you can take to abort a headache that has already started. But (I know from lots of personal experience) this is often not enough. migraine medicines don’t always work and often work very slowly. So what do you do then?

(Also, migraine medicines can have a rebound effect, so the less you take, the better.)

Here are some things to try:

Step 1: Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

This is good for everyone.

Pain and discomfort make us tighten up and restrict our breathing. This is the worst possible thing you can do for a migraine. Instead, remind yourself to take deep, slow breaths with long exhales. If you’ve ever done any meditative or deep breathing (lamaze counts here), this is exactly what you’re looking for. If not, try these beginner steps from Harvard Health:

First steps. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).

Breath focus in practice. Once you’ve taken the steps above, you can move on to regular practice of breath focus. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, blend deep breathing with helpful imagery and perhaps a focus word or phrase that helps you relax.

I sometimes do these breathing exercises by counting to 6 or 8 during the inhale and again during the exhale. After a while you don’t need to count anymore.

Step 2: ​Drink Water

Really. Just water. You may not feel dehydrated, but not being hydrated enough can cause or exacerbate a migraine. Stay away from the sugar and chemicals that can aggravate a headache. So, just water and plenty of it.

Step 3: ​Eat Some Protein

This will help stabilize your blood sugar. Low blood sugar or blood sugar swings can bring on migraines. A small amount of protein, every 2 – 3 hours, can make a huge difference. Also, eat before you are very hungry.

Step 4: ​Hot and Cold

This varies for people with migraines. For some people a very hot shower gives relief. For others, popsicles and ice packs are the way to go. Targeting the face, neck, upper back and shoulders with heat or cold can greatly relieve migraine symptoms and sometimes even stop the migraine before it takes hold. Try these ideas and see what helps you. You may find a combination works for you:

* Lie down or sit with an ice pack on the back of your neck.

* Alternate very hot and icy cold (damp) washcloths on your face and neck.

* Put hot packs on the back of your neck and shoulders.

* Hold ice or a popsicle to the roof of your mouth.

* Take a hot shower or bath. Focus the hot water on the back of your neck and shoulders.

* Press an ice cube against the painful points around your eyes and forehead.

Step 5: ​Have a Nice Cup of Tea.

Or other drink with caffeine. Tea is good because there’s not much in it to upset your stomach.

Step 6: ​Rest, Relax, Sleep

Sleeping off a migraine is a tried and true method of relief for many people. However, what if you feel too sick to sleep or you’re in a situation that makes sleep impossible? Then rest and relax as best you can for the situation. If you’re home, zone out in front of the TV (computers and books can make things worse because of neck and eye strain). Being at work is hard, but relax your muscles and try to get as comfortable as possible.

Step 7: ​Ginger

Ginger tea or candied ginger may help with the nausea. This folk remedy can be helpful for the stomach upset that comes with a migraine.

Step 8: ​Exercise

Regular exercise is very important to help prevent migraines from starting. Exercise reduces stress, loosens tight muscles and helps with blood sugar levels. Whatever you like to do is good. Just try to avoid things that stress your neck. (Which most of us should probably be avoiding anyway.)

I find exercising with a migraine sometimes helps the headache, but check with your doctor first to see if it’s okay for you.

Step 9: ​Adjust Your Environmental Temperature

Being too hot or too cold makes a migraine worse. Try adjusting your thermostat. Add or peel off layers of clothing or blankets as you get warmer or cooler. Adjust as often as you need to maintain a comfortable temperature.

Step 10: Feel Better!

I hope some of these easy home remedies help your headaches. I know there are many more things to try (I think I've tried them all!), but this is a very good start. And everything on this list is good for you even when you don't have a migraine. Good luck and feel better!

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    75 Comments

    I though it might be helpful to add a note about record keeping. For years I used various headache diaries, including a tiny notebook I always kept with me. I recently switched to a phone app, Migraine Buddy. If you're like me and always have your phone with you it's a great option. The program itself isn't perfect, but it's pretty good and easy to use. Just thought you'd like to know.

    Migraine is responsible for permanent vision loss. One should treat this health problem as soon as possible after detecting. A medical advice is necessary. Thanks for sharing this information about migraine with us. Keep sharing such informative thoughts with us.

    8 replies

    Thank you.

    First, it is my hope that any one with migraine and vision issues gets a full medical evaluation. However, I don't want people to be scared that their migraine auras will lead to permanent damage. My daughter has visual snow, which is essentially a 24/7 visual aura that makes it difficult for her to see. It's a rare and disabling problem that has increased in intensity over the last 5 years. Between this issue and the rest of my family being treated for migraine, we have been assured by both the head of neurology at UCSF and head of neurology at Stanford that migraine vision problems do not lead to permanent vision damage or loss. That being said, sometimes a persistent migraine aura can mask another medical problem which can lead to permanent damage. Someone like my daughter is closely monitored to make sure nothing else is going on with her vision. So, again, anyone with visual disturbances should tell their doctor and follow his/her instructions.

    Actually they're are many types of migraine; the kind i have, Basilar migraines, can & do cause permanent vision loss. My eyesight has already degraded considerably in the last 4 years as my migraines have worsened. I am also being treated at Stanford medical; also my personal doctor treats my vision issues seriously, and has warned me of possible permanent damage.

    (I should also mention the head of Stanford Neurology failed to detect my Basilar migraines; he wanted to correlate my symptoms with a period of childhood abuse by a stepfather--ignoring the obvious fact that the migraine symptoms had been happening since well before that period of my life, appearing first following a major concussion when I was six. So the head of Stanford neurology means well, but he did exacerbate my medical case needlessly & erroneously, and mis-treated my condition. FYI.)

    Thank you for sharing this. I'm glad to hear you were able to get a diagnosis. I know how difficult this can be. There's still so much research to be done on migraine.

    There really is--my daughter gets abdominal migraines! Seems like something in our human environment needs to be addressed; and promptly changed/healed!

    Forgive the typos of my above post, i don't always catch my phone's auto-correct mistakes.

    I wish migraines were as easy to fix as a broken leg. For someone like myself with daily (yup, some months it's every single day) migraines you have to take advantage of every possible relief so that you can function. That means daily medications, abortive medications and the home remedies I mention in this instructable. These are especially important because there's a limit to how much medication is medically safe and effective. If I didn't have non-medicine help for my migraines, I would literally spend half my life in bed, in pain. Migraine control is all about management. Keeping meds to a minimum and keeping your sleep, stress, etc. in balance are key. That being said, a good neurologist is also key. Someone at a teaching hospital who keeps up on the latest treatments is ideal. Take care and feel well!

    Yep, same here--lately been fewer days migraine-free than with migraines; can last many days at a time; utterly exhausted, physically wiped out, and every little tiny bit helps. And i do meditate, also; have been since age 9. It helps to cope with the pain & symptoms, but doesn't remove either completely.

    One thing I don't think has been mentioned is meditation. Especially if the migraine is stress related, meditation relaxes the whole body and relieves strain as well as yoga...these are definitely worth a try.

    A lot of people here mention caffeine as a remedy. My wife used to get migraines so bad she lost vision temporarily, spoke jibberish, and would vomit. This was at least two times a month. But she no longer gets migraines at all, she learned that the cause of her migraines was caffeine. She stopped drinking cafinated beverages, and it has been 4 years since the last migraine, with the exception of a pregnancy migraine Two years ago. I wonder if withdrawal from caffeine might bring on a migraine and taking more caffeine relieves the symptoms. Just a thought. Maybe it could help someone else out there.

    2 replies

    Caffeine can trigger migraines; so can peanut butter, perfume, etc. There can be numerous triggers. For people who are not triggered by caffeine, it is recommended because it is a vasodilator and increases blood flow to the brain, which can greatly off-set duration & magnitude of the migraine. This is why it is a main ingredient in OTC migraine products like Excedrine (asperin, acetaminophen & caffeine).

    You're right. For people who have caffeine regularly, lack of caffeine can bring on a headache and trigger a migraine. Having regular caffeine is usually not recommended for a person with migraines. However, for someone like myself who gave up caffeine years ago, caffeine can be very effective at curbing the onset of a headache. I will sometimes try this before taking stronger medication. If I can get a few more days a month without triptans just by having a nice glass of iced tea, this feels like a big win! This doesn't work for everyone (especially those who already have caffeine in their day), but for many people it's worth a try. I'm glad your wife is so much better!

    For headaches , you can also squeeze your thumb till the hand using a pencil,all around, squeeze and leave,squeeze n leave ,and have a glass of water before and after the massage. If you find your thumb is hurting every time you squeeze,you're on the right track (massage maximum for 2-3 minutes not more & water compulsory )

    I learnt the basics of Sujok Accupressure,and have been trying to help people from all aches, head,shoulders & back .Been successful so far ;)

    Really helpful! I had heard of a lot of those, bit not the hot cold packs and eating protien. They sound like good ideas. For caffeine, there are also special caffine tablets for headaches.

    1 reply

    In addition, for those who have not figured out why they get migranes, some people get quite bad ones from soy.

    Yes, CoQ10, riboflavin and magnesium are all supplements often recommended by doctors to help with migraines.

    I agree with those who have urged other users to consult their doctor when experiencing frequent migraines. All of these are nice preventative or soothing measures, but obviously you want to treat the cause itself, if you can, too. If nobody has already mentioned this, I've noticed a reduction in the number of migraines I get per month after adding CoQ10 supplements to my weekly vitamins. Something to try for those who are still searching!

    I can't speak for all migraines, and mine were probably atypical. There have been numerous "migraine formula" versions of OTC medications. However, The one off brand medication that was VERY successful for me was a version of Excedrin - WITH Salicylamide. Excedrin has been good for my general headaches, but did little for my Migraines.

    The version with Salicylamide, once sold as Pain Stopper, would completely stop my migraine pain at whatever point I was able to catch it at. If I took a double dose (4 tablets) early enough, it would completely eliminate the migraine.

    Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find that version recently. Excedrin should just put out a Migraine version with Salicylamide that actually worked.

    Of course, that most likely won't work for many other types of migraines.

    Avoid nitrates, mainly artificial nitrates that are found in foods, like hot dogs and other meats. I know two other people that this worked for. Like mine, their frequent and debilitating migraines were seriously reduced from doing this (two of us have an underlying, healthy diet and exercise plan, which helps, but the third person does not).

    Read your food labels. you'll find the worst nitrates in the form of, "Sodium nitrate" and, "Potassium nitrite". I love hot dogs and lunch meat, but didn't need to cut them out. I just switched to Natural, preservative free hot dogs and meat.

    I only have to do the above, but this can help too (if you can afford it)... Tap water, well water and non-organic foods also have unwanted nitrates in them. They get their nitrates from things like fertilizers and septic system runoff. Eat organic fruits, veggies and other foods. Use bottled water or a filter that is known to remove nitrates. Reverse osmosis filters do this, but I don't know about the others.