Nonpharmacological Treatments for Migraines

MAY 25, 2016
Have you ever experienced a painful, throbbing headache accompanied by flashes of light, blind spots, nausea and vomiting, or tingling in the arms and legs? If so, you were most likely experiencing a migraine.
Migraines can last up to several hours or, in extreme cases, several days. Because migraine headaches can be self-limiting, it’s important for patients to know how to get rid of them in a timely fashion.
Although there are plenty of OTC and prescription drugs available to treat migraine, medication isn’t the only option. This article presents some nonpharmacological tips on what to do when a migraine occurs and how to prevent a subsequent migraine.

Migraine Triggers
Certain factors can trigger a migraine or exacerbate symptoms. Obvious ones include bright lights and loud noises, but you may not know that odors can also have a big impact. In fact, study results show that 25% to 50% of those with migraines experience an intensified sensitivity to odors during their migraine headaches, and up to half of them said strong smells or odors actually triggered their acute migraine attacks.
Certain odors that may lead to a migraine can differ among individuals and even vary from headache to headache in the same individual. A few common odors that affect migraines include perfume, cigarette smoke, paint thinner, car exhaust, gasoline, and cleaning products. These odors should be avoided, if possible, especially during a migraine.

Some patients with migraines have pointed to certain foods as triggers. Once again, each individual is different, so a food that may trigger one patient’s migraines may not necessarily trigger another’s. A few potential trigger foods are aged cheeses, beans, citrus fruits, whole milk, pickles, alcoholic beverages, and foods with preservatives.
The Association of Migraine Disorders has put together a list of foods to avoid, as well a safe migraine diet, in order to reduce the odds of migraine attacks. Implementing an elimination diet can help reveal a patient’s exact food triggers. Patients should start by eliminating foods on the potential triggers list and then adding them back to their diets one at a time until a trigger is found.

Shelby Leheny, Pharm D, B.S
Shelby Leheny, Pharm D, B.S
Shelby Leheny received her Doctor of Pharmacy Degree from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) and her Bachelor's of Science degree at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a pharmacist at CVS.