Migraines affect more than a tenth of the U.S. population, so it’s time to get some tips on self-care out there for those 37 million migraineurs. For those who have infrequent migraines and don't see a physician, you may not have prescription medication on hand when a migraine strikes. However, for those who have frequent and severe migraines, every little bit helps.
When you suffer from migraines, leaving home to travel to a clinic may be the last thing you want to do. Try out a few of these tips to see if any help reduce the frequency, severity, or length of your attacks. You may be able to save yourself a trip, or at the least, you can wait until you feel more up to it to get in the car and go.
Before we get into these at-home tips, remember that even "natural" supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can have side effects. Also, most dietary supplements aren't regulated by the FDA. And just because they are supplements doesn't mean they won't cross-react with other medications, whether OTC or prescription. Please check with your doctor before taking any new medication.
Though managing migraines at home can help, don't hesitate to see a doctor or headache professional if you need to. If these at-home tips do not help your migraines, if you experience extreme pain, or if you notice you experience migraines at an increasing frequency, please visit a doctor to rule out any more serious conditions.
Now, on to those at-home remedies for migraines.
There are several ways to control your environment that can help you feel better. Some may help prevent a future migraine.
Heat and Cold
Both heat and cold can help relieve some of symptoms of a migraine.
- Place an ice-pack or cool, wet cloth on the forehead, temples, scalp, or back of the neck to help with inflammation. Be sure to keep a cloth between the ice pack and your skin.
- Use hot packs or a heating pad to relax muscles in the shoulders, neck, and back that may be contributing to the pain.
- Warm showers are an alternative that helps relieve stress and loosen muscles throughout the body and reduce the severity of the pain.
Dark and Quiet
Many migraine sufferers find that lying in a cool, quiet, dark room helps the light and sound sensitivity that worsens the pain. Turn off the lights and draw the blinds. Run a quiet fan to block out extraneous noise and use an eye covering if needed to block out more light.
Relax and try to sleep if possible.
Identifying your triggers won’t make the current migraine go away, but it can help prevent them in the future.
Try to remember what you were doing when the migraine occurred. Many people find that certain foods, odors, and environmental factors play a role in migraine attacks.
Some common triggers include:
- Red wine or other forms of alcohol
- Aged cheese
- Chocolate (we know, boo.)
- Cured meats
- Bright lights
- High altitude
- Strong odors
A migraine diary can help you identify some of these triggers. Note when your migraine started, what you were doing, how long the migraine lasted, and what made you feel better. If migraines become more frequent and you need to see a specialist, a migraine diary will put you a step closer to medical options.
Traditionally, once you identified your trigger, you would try to avoid it as much as possible. However, new research shows that gradual exposure to the trigger and learning to cope using behavioral management techniques may be better than stressing out about avoiding the triggers.
Over the Counter and Natural Treatments
Here is a list of OTC medications, supplements, and herbal remedies that have been found to help reduce pain or prevent migraines.
Most over-the-counter pain relievers can help reduce the severity of a migraine attack.
- Combination of the above
Don’t take more than the dosage recommended on the container unless under the recommendation from your healthcare provider. Some medications offer more extended protection than others. Since the three primary OTC drugs operate differently, you may need to experiment to find the one that works best for you.
Caffeine is a double-edged sword for many migraine sufferers. Small amounts can offer relief and help your body absorb some drugs or enhance their activity. Caffeine is available in many soft drinks, coffee, and black tea.
However, too much caffeine can cause dependency. When you stop consuming it, you may be faced with a caffeine headache. Also, some migraines are triggered by caffeine, making this remedy a no-go for those who are sensitive to it.
Magnesium is a mineral that can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines. It may also work as a preventive. You can find magnesium in dark green vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. You can also take it as a supplement, but ask your doctor first.
B2 and B12
Both B2 and B12 are vitamins necessary for health. However, low levels can create the conditions for a migraine attack for some people.
Low levels of B12 have been linked to migraine susceptibility. Taken in combination with B9 and B6, B12 may reduce symptoms.
B2, also known as Riboflavin, may also help prevent migraines. B2 is found in milk, cheese, fish, chicken, bananas, chia seeds, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, cashews, dark chocolate (Yay!), and leafy greens like Swiss Chard or spinach. It can also be taken as a supplement.
Butterbur, Feverfew, and Ginger
Butterbur and feverfew are herbs that have been used successfully for migraine prevention.
Butterbur can interact with other drugs. There has been a concern with liver toxicity, lung issues, and blood circulation problems with some supplements. If you take this as a supplement, make sure it is PA-free.
Feverfew became popular as a migraine preventative in the 1980s. A British study showed that more than 70% of participants had less migraine pain when taking feverfew daily.
When taken with white willow, you may receive even more pain reduction. However, if you are allergic to aspirin or are taking other NSAIDs, don’t use these supplements, especially as white willow has properties similar to aspirin.
Ginger, long used to relieve nausea, has also proven effective in treating migraine symptoms as well as prescription sumatriptan and with fewer side effects.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids the body requires but can't make on its own. Instead, you get them from foods such as cold-water fish like salmon, cod, and tuna, walnuts, flaxseed, and eggs fortified with omega-3.
Omega-3 fatty acids have other benefits, including anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory activity, which may help prevent heart disease and stroke. Taking omega-3s may reduce the duration by around three and a half hours. There doesn't seem to be any effect on frequency or severity.
Acupressure can relieve muscle tightness and neck tension, which tends to worsen during migraines. The pressure on specific points in the body seems to turn on self-healing or regulatory mechanisms.
Scalp massage helps some people with migraine pain but take care. Some people are highly sensitive to pressure on the head during a migraine attack.
Many home remedies are helpful in reducing the intensity and length of a migraine attack. Some of these are already in your home. Others can be purchased from a local store.
If you have occasional migraines, keeping one or more of these on hand can get you through to the other side of the migraine. Even if you have chronic migraines, placing a home remedy in your migraine kit may provide additional relief when the time comes.