A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Migraine management: Warning signs and treatment

Deeper Dive about Migraines 4-24 inside

Finding the right method to treat or prevent migraines can save you from spending days in a dark, quiet room.

People who get migraines know they can be debilitating.

The pain, nausea, light and sound sensitivity and other symptoms keep you away from normal activities and curled up in bed for a few hours up to a few days, said Julie Smith, a child neurology registered nurse at Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Some people get migraines a few times a year. Others experience them more than once a week. Learning to manage migraines takes time but you’ll be more productive if you can reduce their frequency.

Migraines may have warning signs

Your body may give you neurological signs a migraine is coming before a headache starts. These symptoms are called an aura and may include:

  • Double vision
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Spots in your visual field
  • Flashes of light
  • Ringing ears
  • Numb or tingling extremities

“Migraines can be easier to treat for people who have these symptoms because they can take medication right away and possibly prevent a headache,” Smith said.

Not everyone gets an aura along with a migraine. Some people have symptoms like irritability and fatigue that are harder to connect to the onset of a migraine.

The range of treatment options

“Headaches can be very complex, and due to their effect on quality of life, choosing the right treatment plan is crucial,” said Dr. Mayur Chalia, Marshfield Clinic Health System headache provider. “Consulting a headache specialist will help you solidify what option is best for you.”

  • Conservative treatments – These include lifestyle changes, including smoking cessation, limiting alcohol/caffeine, regular exercise and maintaining good sleep. These might work solely at times for people with mild headaches, but are combined with other measures for more moderate to severe headaches.
  • Abortive treatments – These include medicines you take when you have a headache for immediate effect. They can be over-the-counter drugs, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, or complex prescription medications including sumatriptan (Imitrex) and rizatriptan (Maxalt). Abortive treatments should be taken as needed with recommended limit not to exceed more than 2-3 days a week to prevent medication overuse headache.
  • Preventive treatments – These are medicines used on a daily basis to prevent headaches in the future. You use them as scheduled, regardless of whether you have a headache at the time. Some examples include propranolol (beta blocker), amitriptyline (antidepressant) and topiramate (antiseizure) which have headache preventive properties as well. Treatment plans are made with many factors in mind, including side effects, costs, patient preferences and pre-existing health conditions.

If you are struggling to manage migraine headaches, please talk with your doctor.

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