Skip to Content

Migraine Headache


A migraine is a severe headache. The pain can be so severe that it interferes with your daily activities. A migraine can last a few hours up to several days. The exact cause of migraines is not known. It may be caused by changes in your body chemicals and extra sensitive nerves in your brain.



Take medicine as soon as you feel a migraine begin.

  • Pain medicine: You may need medicine to take away or decrease pain. You may need a doctor's order for this medicine. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.

  • Migraine medicines: These are used to help prevent a migraine or stop it once it starts.

  • Antinausea medicine: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and to help prevent vomiting. They can also help relieve pain.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Manage your symptoms:

  • Rest: Rest in a dark, quiet room. This will help decrease your pain.

  • Ice: Ice helps decrease pain. Use an ice pack or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the ice pack with a towel and place it on your head where it hurts for 15 to 20 minutes every hour.

  • Heat: Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Use a small towel dampened with warm water or a heating pad, or sit in a warm bath. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours. You may alternate heat and ice.

Keep a headache diary:

Write down when your migraines start and stop. Include your symptoms and what you were doing when a migraine began. Record what you ate or drank for 24 hours before the migraine started. Describe the pain and where it hurts. Keep track of what you did to treat your migraine and whether it worked.

Follow up with your primary healthcare provider or neurologist as directed:

Bring your headache diary with you when you see your primary healthcare provider. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Prevent another migraine:

  • Do not smoke: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Tobacco smoke can trigger a migraine. It can also cause heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and other health problems. Quitting smoking will improve your health and the health of those around you. If you smoke, ask for information about how to stop.

  • Do not drink alcohol: Alcohol can trigger a migraine. It can also interfere with the medicines used to treat your migraine.

  • Get regular exercise: Exercise may help prevent migraines. Talk to your primary healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.

  • Manage stress: Stress may trigger a migraine. Learn new ways to relax, such as deep breathing.

  • Stick to a sleep schedule: Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.

  • Eat regular meals: Include healthy foods such as include fruit, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meat, and fish. Avoid trigger foods like chocolate, hard cheese, and red wine. Foods that contain gluten, nitrates, MSG, or artificial sweeteners may also trigger migraines. Caffeine, which is often used to treat migraines, can also trigger them.

Contact your primary healthcare provider or neurologist if:

  • You have a fever.

  • Your migraines interfere with your daily activities.

  • Your medicines or treatments stop working.

  • You have questions about your condition or care.

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a headache that seems different or much worse than your usual migraine headache.

  • You have a severe headache with a fever or a stiff neck.

  • You have new problems with speech, vision, balance, or movement.

  • You feel like you are going to faint, you become confused, or you have a seizure.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.