Managing migraines at home
Headache - migraine - self-care; Vascular headache - self-care
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.
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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
Waldman SD. Migraine headache. In: Waldman SD, ed. Atlas of Common Pain Syndromes. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 2.
Last reviewed on: 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.