Migraines are painful, pounding, and throbbing headaches. They often are problematic as well, occurring at the worst time of the day. Fortunately, there are some steps that you can take to relieve migraine pain quickly. Follow this guide for the steps you can take to get rid of a migraine fast.
What Are the Causes of a Migraine?
Migraines aren’t the same as other types of headaches. Migraine is a genetic neurological disease in which there is an interplay between the pain neurons in the brain and the blood vessels.
Migraines can be set off by different stimuli, foods, and conditions. These triggers vary from person to person, with the most common including:
- Emotional stress: Anxiety and emotional stress can release hormones that cause blood vessels to become narrowed, or constricted, causing the onset of symptoms.
- Certain foods: Various foods contain substances that can trigger migraines in some individuals, including foods containing certain preservatives (especially nitrates, the additives in cured meats), wine or other alcohol, aged cheeses, fermented foods, and foods that are pickled.
- Caffeine: The presence or absence of caffeine, as in coffee or certain teas, can affect the dilation of the vessels. Depending on the case, both too much of this substance or withdrawal from it can bring on migraines.
- Hormonal changes: The fluctuation of estrogen levels caused by menstrual periods or menopause is another common trigger. Rapid hormonal shifts also occur when you take certain kinds of birth control pills or undergo hormone replacement therapy.
- Certain stimuli: Bright sunlight, flashing lights, fluorescent lights, or the glow of TVs or computer screens can also be triggers. In addition, certain odors, smoke, or perfumes can bring on attacks in some people, as can very loud noises.
- Other triggers: Disruptions in sleep patterns, dehydration, changing weather patterns, fatigue, and some medications can increase the likelihood of migraines. In addition, frequent or excessive use of pain medications can lead to attacks, a condition called medication overuse headache (MOH).
Who’s More Prone to Migraines?
Certain people are more prone to developing migraines. There’s a strong genetic component. In fact, approximately 80% of people who experience migraines have a parent, sibling, or child with the condition. People who menstruate are more likely to get migraines than people who do not. Obesity is another risk factor.
Common Migraine Symptoms
Migraine headaches typically last about four hours, though they can last up to three days, especially if untreated. The location of the pain and its intensity can vary throughout the course of the attacks. The headache may affect one side of the head or both, and it can spread to the face or jaw.
Migraine attacks are typically preceded by a prodrome phase, during which symptoms start to set in, as well as a postdrome phase, characterized by:
- Inability to concentrate
- Depressed mood
- Speech and reading problems
- Sleep disturbances
- Light and sound sensitivity
In addition, some experience migraine with aura. In these cases, a phase of the episode is characterized by:
- Visual disturbances, such as blurry spots, sparkles, or lines
- Numbness and tingling
- Temporary loss of sight in one or both eyes
- Muscle weakness on one side of the body
- Affected speech
Migraines also cause other symptoms, including:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Irritability, depression, anxiety, giddiness, and inability to concentrate
- Sensitivity to light, sound, or smell
- Chills or hot flashes
- Pale skin
- Loss of appetite
How to Get Rid of a Migraine Fast
Once migraine begins, try to be proactive. The sooner you’re able to start mitigating its effects, the better off you’ll be. This may involve taking over-the counter and prescribed medicines, as well as other measures you can take to help with the symptoms.
A range of medications is at the front line of relieving migraine attacks. Delivered as tablets or pills, nasal sprays, suppositories, or injections, they include:
- Over-the-counter painkillers: Widely available pain-relieving drugs, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil Migraine (ibuprofen), and Excedrin Migraine (aspirin, may work for mild attacks. These, however, may cause MOH.
- Triptans: Regarded as the most successful prescription class of drugs for migraine attack, triptans like sumatripan, zomitriptan, and others are a first-line treatment. Not only do they help with pain, but they also treat associated nausea, light sensitivity, and other symptoms.
- Dopamine antagonist antiemetics: Antiemetics are drugs for nausea and vomiting, and they may help with migraines. Most commonly prescribed are Compazine (prochlorperazine), Thorazine (chlorpromazine), and Reglan (metoclopramide).
- Opioids: Stronger pain-killing drugs, such as butorphanol, codeine, ConZip (tramadol), and Demerol (meperidine), can help manage headache pain. However, these should be used sparingly, as they have many side effects and have high abuse potential.
- Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors: A newer medication that blocks the effect of CGRP, a small protein that is involved in pain transmission during a migraine attack.
Furthermore, transcutaneous nerve stimulation—the delivery of mild electric currents to specific nerve areas through the skin using wearable devices—can be done at home. When migraines start, the electricity essentially scrambles the pain messaging.
The following methods may also help relieve pain:
- Finding a quiet, dark place to rest with your eyes closed
- Taking a nap
- Icing or placing a cool cloth on your forehead
- Drinking water
- Having a caffeinated beverage
Ways to Manage and Prevent Migraines
Since there’s no cure for migraine, managing the condition means figuring out ways to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches and other symptoms. Along with medications and medical treatments, lifestyle changes and other at-home strategies can play a crucial role.
Preventive Medications and Treatments
A wide range of drugs may be prescribed to prevent migraine attacks from forming, and some medical treatments can help. Such approaches are considered especially in cases of chronic migraine, in which you have 15 or more headache episodes a month.
Several types of preventative migraine medications may be prescribed. The most common of these are:
Additionally, in cases in which medications aren’t yielding results, Botox (OnabotulinumtoxinA) injections can be considered. In this therapy, doctors target specific areas in your forehead, temples, the sides and back of the head, and the neck. Though the frequency and intensity of migraines are reduced, the effect is temporary, and appointments are needed every three months.
When the condition is associated with the menstrual cycle, hormone replacement therapy may be attempted.
A comprehensive migraine management plan will also involve making lifestyle changes and using strategies to avoid triggers. This includes:
- Tracking headaches: Keep a headache diary and note the frequency, intensity, and duration of attacks. Log what you discover is triggering the condition, and avoid triggers as much as possible.
- Regular sleep: Disruptions in sleep patterns can bring on migraines, and irregular sleep predisposes you to them. Go to bed and wake up at consistent times every day to prevent attacks.
- Losing weight: Since obesity can predispose you to migraines, exercising, changing your diet, and taking other measures to lose weight can reduce the frequency of attacks.
- Biofeedback: Special devices can be worn on the head to detect physiological markers of stress and tension. This helps you identify when you’re feeling stressed, making you better able to head off related attacks.
Vitamins and Natural Treatments
Along with medical management and lifestyle changes, some doctors may also recommend you take certain vitamins, minerals, or herbal supplements. These may include:
Always check with your doctor before taking any new supplements. They can help you determine if the supplement is safe for you and doesn’t interfere with any of your medications.
Among the most commonly recommended interventions for migraines is to make sure you’re getting enough exercise. Following are ways exercise can help:
- Depression and anxiety management: The release of endorphins due to exercise promotes positive feelings and can help with anxiety and depression, which are often associated with migraines.
- Better sleep: Those who get regular exercise also enjoy better quality sleep, which can help prevent migraines.
- Stress relief: Another benefit of the endorphin-release related to exercise is that it can help manage stress. For many, the daily workout is a healthy way to unwind.
- Weight management: Since obesity is a common risk factor for migraines, exercising—along with diet—to lose weight can be a means of managing the condition.
How much exercise should you aim for? If you don’t currently have a routine, try 150 minutes of light-to-moderate activity a week, or 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Start small and scale up. Also, be wary of working yourself too hard, as overexertion can trigger attacks.
Yoga may also be recommended along with other treatments as a means to help prevent migraines. The deep breathing and stretching associated with this practice can help ease stress, a common migraine trigger.
According to one study in the International Journal of Yoga, yoga can help when paired with other treatments. Compared to people using just standard therapies, those who combined other therapies with yoga sessions five days a week for six weeks reported a reduced frequency and intensity of attacks. In addition, yoga was associated with boosting the quality of life of migraine patients.
Mindfulness and Mediation
Another commonly recommended approach to manage migraines is incorporating mindfulness and meditation. Like yoga and exercise, the principal benefit is that this kind of practice helps reduce stress, which in turn can prevent attacks. However, as with other methods, this therapy is thought of as an adjunct, to be used along with others.
For migraines, mindfulness approaches involve focusing on the present moment. This may mean breathing and visualization exercises, as well as thinking more broadly about your needs and immediate situation. It can help to practice mindfulness in your daily life.
Neuromodulation is the use of devices that deliver mild shocks or magnetic impulses through the skin to change the brain’s electrical patterns. This scrambles the pain messaging pathways and may reduce their activity long term. A growing body of research has shown this therapy effective in reducing the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks.
Generally considered when medications haven’t yielded results or are likely to cause adverse effects, several devices that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are:
- Single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulator: This handheld device, when held to the appropriate area of the skull, delivers magnetic fields to nerves in the brain. It’s both a treatment for attacks of migraine with aura and a preventive measure.
- Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulator: Activity in the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain stem to the chest and abdomen, is associated with migraines. Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulators are handheld devices that deliver mild electrical shocks here. Both an acute and preventive treatment, they were cleared for use in children ages 12–17 in 2021.
- Multichannel brain neuromodulation system: In March of 2021, the FDA approved a wearable headset that delivers electricity to several nerves in the brain. A treatment to take on attacks after they’ve started, reducing pain intensity as well as light and sound sensitivity.
Acupuncture and Acupressure
Acupuncture and acupressure, which involve stimulating nerve pathways using needles and physical pressure, respectively, may also help. In one review of 22 studies assessing data from 4,985 people with migraine, regular acupuncture reduced headache frequency by about 50% in 59% of the patients.
When to Seek Professional Treatment
Knowing when you need to see a doctor is another critical aspect of living with migraines. Get emergency medical help if you experience:
- A headache worse than any you’ve experienced in the past
- Problems speaking, along with vision and motor function
- Loss of balance, or other neurological symptoms
- Sudden onset of headache
In addition, call your doctor if any of the following happens:
- There’s a change in the pattern of your headaches.
- Your treatments aren’t working anymore.
- You’re experiencing side effects from medications.
- You’ve started taking birth control while on medications.
- You’re taking pain medications three or more days a week.
- Headaches are worse when you’re lying down.
A Word From Verywell
Migraines are not “just” headaches. They’re debilitating, come at any time, and give rise to a range of symptoms. Living with migraines means being proactive and vigilant. It means knowing what to do when you have attacks and figuring out ways of preventing them.
If you’re struggling with migraines or headaches, make sure to talk to your doctor about what you can do. With their help, you’ll find strategies to ease and minimize this condition’s impact.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you get rid of a migraine fast without medicine?
Medications can help a great deal after the onset of migraine, but other means may also help. These other methods include:
- Icing or using heat compresses on your head
- Resting with your eyes closed in a dark, quiet place
- Taking a nap
- Drinking water
- Having a coffee, tea, or caffeinated drink
How long should you sleep to get rid of a migraine fast?
Increasingly, researchers are finding links between sleep cycles and migraines. This is why ensuring you get good, consistent sleep is essential to preventing attacks. It’s also why going to sleep can stop migraines.
There’s no set amount of sleep time that’s known to be necessary, and every case varies. Make sure you rest and avoid stimulation until you’re sure that symptoms have passed.
Will pressure points help you get rid of migraines quickly?
Along with other ways to treat migraine attacks, there is some evidence that using acupressure—a traditional Chinese medical approach that involves applying pressure on a specific part of the body—may help you manage the pain.
Evidence suggests that pressure on several points can help, Li4, or “Hegu,” found between the thumb and forefinger, and PC6—on the inside arm, about three finger lengths up from the wrist—have been found to help with nausea.