By Rahila Ovais


Migraines are painful throbbing headaches mainly affecting only one side of the head and often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. Each migraine episode can last from three hours to three days. It may last even longer for some. The pain can be so debilitating at times that all you want to do is stay in a dark room.  By the end of a migraine episode most people feel drained.  The frequency of migraines varies from person to person. Some people may suffer a migraine 2 to 4 times a month while some may get a headache every few days or even just once or twice a year.

Migraines can first onset at adolescence and tend to be a life long condition for most.  Women are three times more susceptible to migraines than men.  About 80-90% of people who suffer with migraines have inherited it from one or both parents.

While the cause of migraine is often related to changes in the brain as well as to genetics, the exact causes of migraines are unknown.  What ever the exact cause, we know that migraine is often triggered by several factors such as stress, fatigue, bright lights, certain food and drinks, weather changes, and hormonal changes for women.

Signs and Symptoms:

The symptoms of migraine headaches can occur in various combinations and include:

  • A pounding or throbbing headache that often begins as a dull ache and develops into throbbing pain. The pain is usually aggravated by physical activity and can shift from one side of the head to the other, or it can affect the front of the head or feel like its affecting the whole head.
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, and odors
  • Nausea and vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision

Pain Relief:

Over-the-counter (OTC)

OTC drugs are often effective pain relievers for some people with migraines. The main ingredients in pain-relieving medications are ibuprofen (for example, Motrin), aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and caffeine. Be cautious when taking over-the-counter pain-relieving medications because sometimes they can contribute to a headache or their overuse can cause rebound headaches or a dependency issue. If you are taking any OTC pain medication more than three times a week or daily, its time to see your doctor who can suggest prescription medications that may be more effective.

Anti-nausea drugs: Your doctor can prescribe medication to relieve the nausea that often accompanies migraines.

Abortive medicines (stop migraines): There are some special medications that if used at the first sign of a migraine, may stop the process that causes the headache pain. These medications can also stop the headache pain itself. By stopping the headache process, these drugs help prevent the symptoms of migraines, including pain, nausea, light-sensitivity, etc.

Preventive (prophylactic) medications: When the headaches are severe, occur more than two or three times a month and are significantly interfering with normal activities, your doctor may prescribe preventive medication. Preventive medications reduce the frequency and severity of the headaches and are generally taken on a regular, daily basis.

Alternative therapy

Acupuncture: Traditional Chinese practice involving tiny needles which are strategically inserted into skin to restore balance and energy. Studies show that acupuncture works best when combined with other traditional treatments such as acupressure (a non-invasive form of acupuncture)

Biofeedback: Also referred as “mind over migraine” involves relaxation techniques using special equipment to help you monitor and control muscle tension caused by stress.

Massage: A relaxing massage may help ease stress and tension. Getting regular massages may help in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks.

Relaxation Training: Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help in managing stress. Meditation and yoga has also been helpful for some.

Exercise: Regular cardio exercises have proven comparable to relaxation and medication.

Chiropractor: Although considered controversial, spinal manipulation by a chiropractor has proven comparable to any effective drug treatment.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Talk therapy works well when combined with other treatments.

Diet Changes: Certain foods such as aged cheese, MSG, chocolate and caffeine can be a trigger to your migraine. It helps to keep a journal of what you may have consumed before your migraine attack and avoid those triggers in your diet.

Supplements:  Some natural vitamins and mineral supplements such as Vitamin B2, Coenzyme Q10 and magnesium may help with the intensity and frequency of migraine.  It is very important to discuss with your doctor if you are adding any supplements to your therapy to avoid interactions with your other prescription medications.

Herbal medicine: Mixed research has shown feverfew to be beneficial in migraine prevention, however it should be used with great caution and you should always consult with your doctor if you are taking any other prescription medications.

Homeopathy:  Some people who suffer with migraines have reported complete cure with the help of homeopathic medicines.

Depending on your triggers, severity and frequency of migraine headache, you may have to try different treatment option or a combination of several options.  Migraines are often mis-diagnosed so it’s very important to consult your symptoms with your physician before any self-treatment.


About the Author:

Rahila Ovais is a Pharmacy Technician working at the Ontario College of Pharmacists. A mother to four, she’s called Jeddah, KSA, where she was born and Karachi, Pakistan, where she was brought up, her homes before moving to Toronto twenty years ago. She is also a very opinionated person who has a hard time keeping her thoughts to herself.