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8 Ways to Relieve a Migraine

Seeking quick relief from the crushing pain of a migraine? Try these eight strategies to alleviate migraine symptoms. 

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1. Prescription migraine medication

Take one dose of a prescription medication such as Imitrex (sumatriptan), Zomig (zolmitriptan) or Maxalt (rizatriptan), also known as triptans. Triptans, or selective serotonin-receptor agonists, have revolutionized migraine treatment. Taken at the first sign of a migraine, they can stop it in its tracks; even if you swallow them after the headache is in full force, they can cut the migraine’s severity and duration. They work by blocking the release of inflammatory substances from nerve endings and constricting swollen blood vessels in the brain. You can also get Zomig and Imitrex as a nasal spray (helpful if you are nauseated-you don’t have to worry about keeping the drug down) and Imitrex as an injection. 

For severe nausea, take the prescription antiemetic Tigan (trimethobenzamide) or Compazine (prochlorperazine). 

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2. Over-the-counter painkillers

If you don’t have prescription medicine, take a dose of over-the-counter painkiller, such as naproxen (Aleve) or a product combining acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine, such as Excedrin. Take one Aleve or two Excedrin.

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3. Peppermint and lavender essential oils

Looking for tips on how to use natural remedies to treat migraines? Here’s a good one: dilute peppermint and lavender essential oils (about 3 to 5 drops in 15 to 20 drops of olive, avocado or sesame oil) and rub on your temples, around your hairline, and across the back of your neck. You can even find these essential oils in rub-on sticks.

The lavender essential oil is relaxing, while the peppermint is a well-known remedy for nausea (one of the common symptoms of migraines). You can also make a cold compress with the lavender and peppermint oil. For every 6 ounces (175 millilitres) water, add 7 drops lavender oil and 3 of peppermint, then add ice cubes. Stir and dip a washcloth in the mixture. Use as a cold compress to the back of neck and forehead (be careful not to get it in your eyes-the peppermint can burn). For the nausea-reducing effects of peppermint (especially useful in cases where you can’t keep anything down), put a few drops of peppermint essential oil on a tissue and sniff.

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4. Ginger

If one of your migraine symptoms is nausea, you can take ginger to relieve nausea as well as to help with pain. Take two 500-milligram capsules of ginger with a small amount of water or suck on a dried ginger candy. There’s even some evidence ginger can help with the migraine itself, probably by blocking inflammatory substances called prostaglandins.

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5. Accupressure

Use this acupressure technique: rub the fleshy area between your thumb and first finger of your hand very firmly and rhythmically while sitting quietly with your eyes closed and breathing deeply for 5 to 10 minutes. As you breathe out, ease up on the pressure on your hand and imagine all pain in your head draining out as your breath relaxes.

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6. Find a quiet, dark room

Not all of our tips require you see a specialist or take a remedy. If you’re enduring a full-blown attack and have already taken medication, you need to give it time to work. A quiet, dark room helps, as does focusing your mind on something other than the pain. Lie down in a dark room with an ice pack on the back of your neck and on your forehead. Picture yourself lying on a beach in the sun and feel the warmth centered on your hands and head. Continue feeling the warmth soak into your hands and head for 15 minutes.

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7. Neck stretches

Tension in this area can trigger a migraine. At the first sign of a migraine, sit up straight in an armless chair. Grab the edge of the chair with your right hand and lean your neck over to the left, trying to place your left ear onto your left shoulder to stretch your neck muscles. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Moving your hand back on the chair seat stretches muscles in the back of the neck; moving it forward stretches muscles in the front. (To prevent migraines, do these stretches at least once a day.)

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8. Acupuncture

If you can get yourself to an acupuncturist before the full force of a headache hits, you might be able to stop it from coming on. One study comparing acupuncture with Imitrex or a placebo injection found Imitrex and acupuncture were most effective in preventing an attack, but that the drug was more effective than the acupuncture at relieving the pain once the headache hit full force. Also, an analysis of 22 studies of acupuncture for the treatment of all recurrent headaches, including migraine, found it was more effective than a control or placebo.