Migraine is a neurological disorder that affects millions of people worldwide, with estimations of 1 billion globally and 39 million in the United States. It is characterized by recurrent severe headaches that can last for hours or even days, often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can significantly impact the quality of life, productivity, and well-being of those who suffer from them. Episodic migraine refers to the type of migraine that occurs less than 15 times per month, while chronic migraine is 15 or more headache days per month (with at least 8 migrainous). Although it is less severe than chronic migraine, episodic migraine attacks can still cause significant pain and discomfort.
Managing the pain and symptoms of an episodic migraine attack quickly is crucial to reduce the impact on an individual’s daily life. Every patient with migraine, regardless of their frequency, needs an effective abortive therapy. We know that the more migraine goes unsuccessfully treated, the more likely that it will evolve over time into worsening frequency and severity and often times chronic migraine.
There are several strategies that individuals can use to manage the pain and symptoms of an episodic migraine attack. Over-the-counter medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation for some.
Triptans, a class of medications specifically designed for migraines, can also be effective in managing migraine symptoms by interfering with migraine pathways such as the release of CGRP and mild constriction of the blood vessels in the brain. Most patients with migraine will need a more migraine specific abortive medication than an OTC, such as a triptan, gepant, or DHE.
What is Episodic Migraine?
Episodic migraine is a subtype of migraine that is defined by the frequency of attacks. Specifically, episodic migraine refers to migraine attacks that occur less than 15 times per month, which means that the individual experiences migraine attacks on a sporadic or irregular basis.
This is in contrast to chronic migraine, which is characterized by having 15 or more headache days per month, with at least 8 of them being migraine attacks.
What are Episodic Migraine Symptoms?
Episodic migraine is a type of migraine that is characterized by infrequent but recurring headaches. The symptoms of episodic migraine are similar to those of other types of migraine and can vary in severity and duration.
The pain is often described as pulsating or throbbing and may be accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Many people also experience what is known as an aura, which is a visual disturbance that can include flashes of light or blind spots, numbness or tingling on ones side of the body, or speech disturbances.
While the symptoms of episodic migraine are similar to those of other types of migraine, there are some differences in terms of their frequency, severity, and duration.
An episodic migraine attack is a debilitating experience that can significantly impact a person’s daily life. The symptoms of an episodic migraine attack can vary in intensity and duration, but they often include the following:
- Throbbing headache: The pain is typically moderate to severe and is often described as a throbbing or pulsating sensation. The pain can be on one or both sides of the head and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
- Sensitivity to light and sound: Many people with episodic migraine experience sensitivity to light and sound during an attack. Bright lights and loud noises can make the pain worse and can be difficult to tolerate.
- Nausea and vomiting: Episodic migraine can cause nausea and vomiting, which can make it difficult to eat or drink anything. This can lead to dehydration, which can make the headache worse.
- Visual disturbances: Some people with episodic migraine experience visual disturbances, such as seeing flashing lights or zigzag lines. These visual disturbances are often referred to as an “aura” and can occur before or during a migraine attack. Other types of aura include numbness or tingling on one side, or speech disturbances. Overall, about 25% of patients with migraine get aura (classical migraine), while the other 75% do not (common migraine).
The impact of these symptoms on daily life can be significant. Episodic migraine attacks can disrupt work, school, and social activities. The pain and other symptoms can make it difficult to concentrate, focus, and complete tasks.
In some cases, people with episodic migraine may need to take time off from work or school to manage their symptoms.
Effective Pain Management Techniques:
Episodic Migraine treatment can help reduce the severity and duration of migraine attacks and improve the overall quality of life. Managing the pain and symptoms of episodic migraine can involve a combination of medication, lifestyle modifications, and complementary therapies. It is important to work with a healthcare provider to manage migraine symptoms and improve quality of life.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can be an effective option for managing episodic migraine pain relief for some patients. They are often tried as a first line option since they can be easily bought over the counter without a prescription. There are several types of OTC medications available that can provide relief for different migraine symptoms. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each type of medication can help individuals choose the best OTC option for Episodic Migraine treatment.
It is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that can be used to manage pain and inflammation, including migraine pain relief. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using aspirin for episodic migraine pain relief:
- Effectiveness: Aspirin is a potent pain reliever that can be effective in managing mild to moderate migraine pain. It works by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals in the body that contribute to pain and inflammation.
- Affordability: Aspirin is an affordable OTC medication that is widely available in drugstores and supermarkets.
- Blood thinning properties: Aspirin can also reduce blood clotting, which can be beneficial for individuals who are at risk for heart attack or stroke.
- Gastrointestinal side effects: Aspirin can irritate the lining of the stomach and increase the risk of stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding. This risk is higher in individuals who take aspirin regularly or at high doses.
- Reye’s syndrome: Aspirin use in children and adolescents with viral infections has been associated with the development of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition that affects the liver and brain.
- Bleeding risk: Aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding, especially in individuals who have a history of bleeding disorders, stomach ulcers or are taking blood-thinning medications.
- Allergic reactions: Aspirin can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, including hives, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis.
- Interaction with other medications: Aspirin can interact with other medications, including blood thinning medications, steroids, and other NSAIDs.
2- Ibuprofen and Naproxen:
These are other types of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that can be used for episodic migraine pain relief. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using ibuprofen and naproxen:
- Effectiveness: Ibuprofen and naproxen are potent pain relievers that can be effective for managing mild to moderate migraine pain. They work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, similar to aspirin.
- Anti-inflammatory effects: Ibuprofen and naproxen have anti-inflammatory effects, which can help reduce inflammation and associated migraine symptoms.
- Longer duration of action: Ibuprofen has a longer duration of action (about 6-8 hours) than acetaminophen (about 4-6 hours), providing longer-lasting pain relief. However, naproxen works the longest (about 12 hours).
- Available in different forms: Ibuprofen and naproxen are available in tablet, capsule, and liquid form, making it easier to take for individuals who have difficulty swallowing pills.
- Gastrointestinal side effects: Ibuprofen and naproxen can irritate the lining of the stomach and increase the risk of stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding. This risk is higher in individuals who take them regularly or at high doses.
- Bleeding risk: Ibuprofen and naproxen can increase the risk of bleeding, especially in individuals who have a history of bleeding disorders or stomach ulcers or are taking blood-thinning medications.
- Kidney toxicity: Ibuprofen and naproxen can be toxic to the kidneys when taken in large doses or when used for prolonged periods.
- Interaction with other medications: Ibuprofen and naproxen can interact with other medications, including blood thinning medications, steroids, and other NSAIDs.
- Allergic reactions: Ibuprofen and naproxen can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, including hives, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis.
It, also known as paracetamol, is another over-the-counter (OTC) medication that can be used for episodic migraine pain relief. Some formulations of acetaminophen are combined with aspirin and caffeine (such as Excedrin), which many patients find helpful as well. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using acetaminophen:
- Fewer gastrointestinal side effects: Acetaminophen is less likely to irritate the stomach lining and cause gastrointestinal side effects compared to other NSAIDs like aspirin.
- Fewer interactions with other medications: Acetaminophen is less likely to interact with other medications compared to other NSAIDs.
- Safe for children: Acetaminophen is a safe option for children and infants and can be given for pain relief and fever reduction.
- Liver toxicity: Acetaminophen can be toxic to the liver when taken in large doses or when used with alcohol or other drugs that affect liver function. Individuals with liver disease should use acetaminophen with caution.
- Overuse and overdose: Overuse or overdose of acetaminophen can cause serious liver damage, including liver failure.
- Limited anti-inflammatory effects: Acetaminophen is not an anti-inflammatory drug, so it may not be as effective as other NSAIDs for reducing inflammation and associated migraine symptoms.
- Limited duration of action: Acetaminophen has a relatively short duration of action (about 4-6 hours), so it may not provide long-lasting pain relief compared to other medications.
Medications Help in the Abortive (Acute) Treatment of Episodic Migraine
Triptan is a class of drugs used in the treatment of migraines and cluster headaches. They work by narrowing blood vessels in the brain slightly and reducing inflammation, which helps to relieve the intense pain and other symptoms associated with these types of headaches.
There are several different triptans available (7 types), including sumatriptan, rizatriptan, zolmitriptan, and naratriptan. These drugs are typically taken as a pill, injection, or nasal spray at the onset of a migraine or cluster headache. Common side effects of triptans include nausea, dizziness, and dry mouth.
A group of naturally occurring compounds produced by certain types of fungi. These compounds have been used for centuries for various medicinal purposes, including the treatment of migraines and other headaches.
The active ingredient in ergots works by constricting blood vessels in the brain and reducing inflammation, which can help alleviate the symptoms of migraines and other headaches. Ergot alkaloids are the precursor to several medications that are currently used in the treatment of migraines and cluster headaches, such as dihydroergotamine (DHE). DHE is a derivative of ergotamine which is generally more effective and has less side effects.
Gepant is one of the newest classes of migraine abortive options. They were the first new abortive migraine medication class to become available since the triptans first became available in 1992! They generally have much less side effects than triptans, have no effects on narrowing of the blood vessels, and do not cause rebound headache (medication overuse headache).
Non-Medicinal Pain Management Techniques:
There are several non-medicinal pain management techniques that can be effective for managing the symptoms of an episodic migraine attack.
- Cold compresses: Applying a cold compress to the head and neck can help to reduce pain and inflammation. The cold temperature can also help to numb the affected area, providing temporary relief.
- Relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing and visualization can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation. This can help to ease tension in the head and neck, which can contribute to migraine pain.
- Massage: Massaging the temples, neck, and shoulders can help to reduce muscle tension and relieve pain. This technique can also promote relaxation and reduce stress, which can help to prevent future migraine attacks.
- Neuromodulation Devices: There are a number of very effective neuromodulation devices that are FDA cleared for acute migraine treatment as well as preventive migraine treatment. The benefit is that it is a non-medicinal option, which many patients prefer. The side effects are also much lower compared to medications.
It is important to note that the effectiveness of these techniques can vary from person to person, and they may not work for everyone. However, many people find them to be helpful in managing their symptoms and reducing the frequency and severity of their migraine attacks.
Is Symptom Management Possible?
Nausea is a common symptom that can occur during a migraine attack, affecting up to 80% of people with migraines. It is thought to be caused by a combination of factors, including changes in the levels of certain brain chemicals, slowing down of the gastrointestinal system, inflammation, and increased sensitivity to light and sound. Nausea can range in severity from mild to severe and can be debilitating in some cases.
Managing nausea during a migraine attack is important to overall migraine management. There are several medications and other remedies that can be used to help alleviate nausea during a migraine attack, including:
1- Anti-nausea medications:
Prescription medications such as ondansetron, metoclopramide, promethazine and prochlorperazine can help to relieve nausea during a migraine attack. Over-the-counter medications such as dimenhydrinate and meclizine can also be effective.
Ginger has been shown to be effective in reducing nausea and vomiting associated with migraines. Ginger tea or ginger supplements can be taken as needed.
Peppermint has a calming effect on the stomach and can help to reduce nausea. Peppermint tea or peppermint oil can help manage nausea during a migraine attack. Many patients find peppermint oil on the temples can also be helpful.
Drinking plenty of water and other fluids can help to prevent dehydration, which can exacerbate nausea.
5- Rest And Relaxation:
Resting in a dark, quiet room can help to alleviate nausea and other migraine symptoms.
Light sensitivity, also known as photophobia, is a common symptom that can occur during an episodic migraine attack. It is characterized by a heightened sensitivity to light, which can cause discomfort and exacerbate other migraine symptoms. Light sensitivity affects up to 90% of people with migraines.
Managing light sensitivity during a migraine attack is an important part of overall migraine management. There are several techniques that can be used to help alleviate light sensitivity during a migraine attack, including:
1- Wearing sunglasses:
Wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses can help to reduce the amount of light entering the eyes and alleviate light sensitivity. There are several companies that make migraine specific sunglasses that can be worn indoors or outdoors to help shield from many of the irritating light wavelengths that can exacerbate migraine.
2- Staying in a dark, quiet room:
Dimming the lights or using soft, indirect lighting can help to reduce the intensity of light and alleviate light sensitivity.
Sound sensitivity, also known as phonophobia, is a common symptom that can occur during a migraine attack. It is characterized by a heightened sensitivity to sound, which can cause discomfort and exacerbate other migraine symptoms. It affects up to 80% of people with migraines and is thought to be caused by changes in the levels of certain brain chemicals, as well as increased sensitivity to auditory stimuli.
1- Wearing earplugs:
Wearing earplugs can help to reduce the amount of sound entering the ears and alleviate sound sensitivity.
2- Playing white noise:
Playing white noise or other calming sounds, such as rain or ocean waves, can help to mask external noise and alleviate sound sensitivity.
Other Recommendations to Fight Migraine:
1- Staying Hydrated:
It is important during a migraine attack as dehydration can often worsen migraine symptoms, such as headache, nausea, and fatigue. When the body is dehydrated, it can trigger a migraine attack. Once a migraine has started, dehydration can make the symptoms more severe and prolonged.
Here are some recommendations for staying hydrated during a migraine attack:
- Drink plenty of water: Drinking water is the best way to hydrate your body, and it is especially important during a migraine attack. Aim for at least 8-10 glasses of water per day, and more if you are sweating or exercising.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol can both cause dehydration, so it is best to avoid them during a migraine attack.
- Eat water-rich foods: Eating water-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can help to hydrate your body and provide important nutrients.
- Try sports drinks: Sports drinks can be helpful in replenishing electrolytes lost during sweating or vomiting, but be mindful of the sugar content.
- Sip fluids throughout the day: Sipping fluids throughout the day can help to maintain hydration levels and prevent dehydration.
2- Get Proper Sleep:
Getting enough sleep is crucial for overall health and well-being, and it is especially important during a migraine attack. Sleep plays a critical role in migraine management, as lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can trigger or worsen migraines. On the other hand, getting enough restful sleep can help to prevent migraines and alleviate their symptoms.
During sleep, the body undergoes important processes that help to repair and restore tissues and cells, balance hormones, and boost the immune system. Lack of sleep can lead to several health problems, including fatigue, mood disturbances, and an increased risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
3- Avoid Triggers at All Costs:
Here are some techniques to help avoid triggers and reduce the frequency of migraines:
- Keep a migraine diary: Keeping track of migraine triggers, including food, drink, sleep, and stress, can help to identify patterns and avoid triggers.
- Practice healthy habits: Maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, and stress management techniques can help to prevent migraines.
- Avoid triggers: Avoiding known triggers, such as environmental factors and food and drink, can help to reduce the frequency of migraines.
- Consider medication: Your doctor may recommend medications such as preventive medications or acute treatments to help manage migraines.
- Talk to your doctor: If you are experiencing frequent migraines, talk to your doctor. The treatment options and lifestyle changes can help to manage your symptoms.
Keep Check And Balance of Your Health:
It is important to consult with a healthcare professional when managing episodic migraine because migraines can be complex and have many different causes, triggers, and symptoms. A healthcare professional can help to provide individualized advice on how to manage symptoms and prevent future migraines.
Migraine management may involve a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and other therapies, depending on the individual’s needs and medical history. A healthcare professional can provide guidance on how to effectively manage migraines while minimizing the risk of side effects or complications.
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