How to Treat Migraines: My 35-Year Journey

A migraine is a powerful headache lasting from 4 hours to 3 days that is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. Doctors don’t know the exact cause of migraines, but the headaches seem to be related to changes in the brain that cause blood vessels to swell. Migraines may run in families. Common migraine triggers include stress, food, caffeine, alcohol, changes in weather, feeling tired, skipping meals, changes in sleep, insufficient water intake, and hormonal cycles.

How to Treat and Prevent Migraines with Blood Pressure Medications

  • I have had migraines since 1985; they started after I underwent a hysterectomy. I have been through a variety of prescription and over-the-counter medications in the intervening years. Inderal is one of the first medications I was prescribed; Inderal is a beta-blocker that relaxes blood vessels. It wasn’t terribly effective. Hormone replacement therapy did not impact my headaches.
  • Midrin, also an older medicine, is a combination of isometheptene, which narrows blood vessels, acetaminophen, which is a pain reliever, and dichhloralophnazone, which is a mild sedative. I used it for a while but found that rebound headaches were an unwanted side effect.
  • Cafergot and other ergotamines were formerly used to treat migraines. They worked for me, but some of them were taken off the market in 2007 since they were not proven to be effective. I had to find something else.

Medication to Treat Migraines as a Neurological issue

Gabapentin (Neurontin) is an antiseizure medication sometimes used to treat migraines. Both my daughter and I became addicted to it and weaned ourselves off of it over a period of months. We found that it affected our emotional state of being. The “highs” were taken off the top and the “lows” were taken off the bottom. We were both happy to get back to experiencing our normal range of emotions.

New Medications for Treatment

  • Triptans are a relatively new class of migraine medications. They narrow blood vessels and block pain signals in the brain. Initially available only by self-administered subcutaneous injection, Imitrex (sumatriptan) eventually was developed a nasal spray and as an oral medication. There are seven different combinations of triptans. My daughter and stepdaughter both take rizatriptan (Maxalt.) I take Amerge (naratriptan) that takes longer to take hold but lasts longer. I would not be exaggerating to say this drug saved my life. Those of you who have suffered from severe migraine headaches know that life with severe, chronic migraine headaches is really not worth living. Thank heavens for the creators of triptans!
  • Botox, the same drug used to treat wrinkles, often helps some people with frequent and long-term headaches. It is a poison – botulism toxin – and works by relaxing muscles. Patients who initially used Botox to treat wrinkles on the face also found the number of their headaches was reduced. Botox blocks neurotransmitters that carry pain signals from the brain. I have not tried Botox to treat migraines and my doctor is not in a hurry to prescribe it.

Non-Prescription Migraine Remedies

  • Feverfew is a herbal supplement produced by drying the leaves of the Feverfew plant. Feverfew is a versatile supplement used for fertility issues, arthritis, psoriasis, allergies, nausea and vomiting. It’s also used for cancer, the common cold, earache, liver disease, and intestinal disorders. I have taken it in the past – it is a mild pain-reliever that can be used for a variety of physical pains. But it is not a miracle pill.
  • Essential oils – M-Grain and Peppermint have become a staple of my migraine relief. Put three drops of each into the palm of your hand, then apply the liquid to your forehead. Essential oils are also meant to be inhaled, as the quickest way to the brain is through the nasal cavities. Hold your palm over your nose for a few minutes. Do not let any excess fluid run into your eyes – the sting is worse than the headache! I rub any excess oil on the back of my neck.  I don’t travel without these two little bottles!
  • OTC – NSAIDs, Excedrine for Migraine. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are a type of pain reliever; they include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Excedrine for Migraine is composed of aspirin, caffeine, and acetaminophen. It is the only OTC remedy that works for me on a mild headache, but I have to be careful since I have a healed stomach ulcer (exacerbated by aspirin) that occasionally lets me know it is still around.


  1. Caffeine can either cause a migraine or help reduce a migraine.
  2. Although migraines can be hereditary, people in the same family can have different types of headaches and thus use different types of medicine.
  3. My stepdaughter uses cold packs on her neck to reduce pain. I use a heating pad on my neck and shoulders to relax tense muscles. It works for both of us!
  4. I am one of those fortunate women whose migraines diminish with age.
  5. Exercise helps in dealing with minor pain.
  6. Don’t go to bed without assigning a problem or pain to your subconscious (or superconscious) mind. When my efforts at getting rid of the pain are not successful, I say, “OK, God, I give up. I surrender. I’m not doing well at this healing. I give this to you and it’s your problem now. I will be satisfied with whatever outcome you give to me.” I usually feel much better in the morning!

A Cure for Me!

I have recently found that food has a great influence on my brain. After experimenting with different foods for a few months, I came to understand why and when I get migraine headaches.

  • I get migraines when I eat meat. Giving up meat entirely is tough, so I save being a meat-a-saurus when I am out to dinner with others and there is no vegetarian entrée, and I take a pill when I get home. Fish doesn’t seem to bother me as much. Giving up meat has made an incredible difference in how often I get a headache. A daily protein drink is also on my menu. In these days of social distancing, eating out is not an option, so I am not tempted.
  • Too much wine gives me a headache. Can’t give that up entirely, either, but I have cut way down.
  • A salad a day helps keep the headache away. I don’t have a problem with this, but a dinner salad at 6 PM is usually accompanied by a peanut butter sandwich at midnight! I don’t seem to be able to tolerate a lot of pizza dough, but I can tolerate some crispy fish every couple of days. So it’s not too bad!

Conclusion – I am starting a new life free of migraine headaches, meat and wine! After 35 years of medication, pain, and trial and error, I deserve it!


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