Ask anyone who suffers from migraines what the experience is like, and you’ll probably hear words like “agonizing” and “terrible” thrown around. Migraines are no joke and, if you’re unlucky enough to experience one, it’s understandable to find yourself Googling “ways to get rid of a migraine” to try to get relief ASAP, if not sooner.
To make things even worse, migraines can come out of nowhere and last for an undetermined amount of time. A migraine can last anywhere from four to 72 hours (not a typo) without treatment.
For patients, “migraine headaches are a constant burden in their busy lives,” says Kiran F. Rajneesh MD, director of the Neurological Pain Division at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “They interfere with every aspect of their lives—family time, vacations, work deadlines, holidays, and weekends.” People who suffer from migraines “constantly need to alter their plans or take into account their migraine headaches at all times,” Dr. Rajneesh says.
People also just find that life is harder when they’re dealing with migraines, says Amit Sachdev, MD, the director of the division of neuromuscular medicine at Michigan State University. “They're able to engage in day-to-day activities but their enjoyment is significantly degraded,” Dr. Sachdev says. “They may be less engaged with spouses, co-workers, and children than they would prefer.”
The TL; DR: Migraines suck. So, what can you do about it? Migraines are a complicated form of headache, and what works for one person may not be best for another. Still, there are certain treatments that are considered helpful with migraine. These are the biggies to reach for the next time a migraine strikes.
How to get rid of a migraine
You have a few different options when it comes to dealing with a migraine. Try one or several of these out to get relief.
- Take an NSAID. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) “help block the production of prostaglandins, which are involved in generating migraines,” Dr. Sachdev says. They also help decrease overall inflammation in your body, Dr. Rajneesh says.
- Pop an acetaminophen. The exact way acetaminophen (aka Tylenol) works against migraines isn’t entirely clear, “though this is one of the most common medications used for migraine,” Dr. Sachdev says. It’s thought to “affect that inflammatory signaling molecules [in your brain], decreasing the overall inflammation,” Dr. Rajneesh says.
- Have some—but not too much—caffeine. Caffeine “acts by temporarily constricting blood vessels in the brain, thereby decreasing pain,” Dr. Rajneesh says. Worth noting: Caffeine can be a migraine trigger, so you want to have this in moderation (think: one cup of coffee, not three). Some migraine medications, like Excedrin Migraine, even include caffeine.
- Ask your doctor about triptans. Triptans are prescription drugs like sumatriptan (Imitrex, Tosymra) and rizatriptan (Maxalt, Maxalt-MLT). These are a “very effective class of drugs for breaking up a migraine once it has already started,” Dr. Sachdev says. “Many migraine patients have triptans for use in moderate to severe headache days,” he adds. Triptans specifically constrict blood vessels and work to decrease electrochemical imbalances, Dr. Rajneesh says.
- Try meditation. It sounds ridiculously simple, but using relaxation techniques like meditation or breathing exercises “modulates several regions of the brain such as sleep centers and pain-relief centers in the brain and helps regenerate and recharge our own bodies intrinsically,” Dr. Rajneesh says. Start with these awesome meditation apps.
- Do what you can to minimize stress. This, Dr. Rajneesh says, will “decrease abnormal hormonal release and restore normal balance” in your body.
- Get moving. Sure, this can be tricky when you’re in pain, but exercising “activates our own body’s pain relief centers in the brain to release pain relievers—endorphins—into the blood stream,” Dr. Rajneesh says. (BTW: Walking counts!)
- Use a cold compress. As a whole, most sufferers with migraine headache prefer cold packs, according to the National Headache Foundation. The foundation specifically recommends applying cold packs to the forehead and temples to get relief.
- Try to get some sleep. Easier said than done when you’re in agony, but sleep relaxes irritation in your head that can come with migraine, Dr. Sachdev says.
- Take a blood pressure-lowering medication. Beta blockers like propranolol (Inderal, InnoPran XL) and metoprolol tartrate (Lopressor) can help “restore balance” in your brain, Dr. Rajneesh says.
How to prevent migraines from happening in the first place
Here’s the thing: As tricky as it is, there’s only so much you can do to prevent migraines. Still, there are some steps you can take to lower the risk you’ll have one anytime soon or, at least, as often as you have in the past. These are definitely worth trying out:
- Get Botox. Botox does more than prevent wrinkles. It also “blocks pain signals from reaching the brain,” Dr. Sachdev says. When used properly, it can decrease the number of headaches you have, Dr. Rajneesh says.
- Use an anti-depressant medication. A tricyclic antidepressant medication like amitriptyline acts on neurons (aka brain cells) and decreases electrochemical imbalances in your brain, Dr. Rajneesh says.
- Stay well hydrated. In general, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that men take in 15.5 cups of fluids a day and women have 11.5 cups.
- Prioritize sleep. In general, you want to aim to have at least seven hours a night, Dr. Rajneesh says.
- Watch how much sugar and caffeine you have. Both can be migraine triggers, Dr. Rajneesh points out.
If you’re struggling with migraine, talk to your doctor. They should be able to offer up personalized guidance to help you get the best level of care.