Migraine Headache: Care Instructions
Migraines are painful, throbbing headaches that often start on one side of the head. They may cause nausea and vomiting and make you sensitive to light, sound, or smell.
Without treatment, migraines can last from 4 hours to a few days. Medicines can help prevent migraines or stop them after they have started. Your doctor can help you find which ones work best for you.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Do not drive if you have taken a prescription pain medicine.
- Rest in a quiet, dark room until your headache is gone. Close your eyes, and try to relax or go to sleep. Don't watch TV or read.
- Put a cold, moist cloth or cold pack on the painful area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the cold pack and your skin.
- Use a warm, moist towel or a heating pad set on low to relax tight shoulder and neck muscles.
- Have someone gently massage your neck and shoulders.
- Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
- Don't take medicine for headache pain too often. Talk to your doctor if you are taking medicine more than 2 days a week to stop a headache. Taking too much pain medicine can lead to more headaches. These are called medicine-overuse headaches.
To prevent migraines
- Keep a headache diary so you can figure out what triggers your headaches. Avoiding triggers may help you prevent headaches. Record when each headache began, how long it lasted, and what the pain was like. Write down any other symptoms you had with the headache, such as nausea, flashing lights or dark spots, or sensitivity to bright light or loud noise. Note if the headache occurred near your period. List anything that might have triggered the headache. Triggers may include certain foods (chocolate, cheese, wine) or odours, smoke, bright light, stress, or lack of sleep.
- If your doctor has prescribed medicine for your migraines, take it as directed. You may have medicine that you take only when you get a migraine and medicine that you take all the time to help prevent migraines.
- If your doctor has prescribed medicine for when you get a headache, take it at the first sign of a migraine, unless your doctor has given you other instructions.
- If your doctor has prescribed medicine to prevent migraines, take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
- Find healthy ways to deal with stress. Migraines are most common during or right after stressful times. Try finding ways to reduce stress like practicing mindfulness or deep breathing exercises.
- Get plenty of sleep and exercise. But be careful to not push yourself too hard during exercise. It may trigger a headache.
- Eat meals on a regular schedule. Avoid foods and drinks that often trigger migraines. These include chocolate, alcohol (especially red wine and port), aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and some additives found in foods (such as hot dogs, bacon, cold cuts, aged cheeses, and pickled foods).
- Limit caffeine. Don't drink too much coffee, tea, or soda. But don't quit caffeine suddenly. That can also give you migraines.
- Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
- If you are taking birth control pills or hormone therapy, talk to your doctor about whether they are triggering your migraines.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You have signs of a stroke. These may include:
- Sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
- Sudden vision changes.
- Sudden trouble speaking.
- Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
- Sudden problems with walking or balance.
- A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have new or worse nausea and vomiting.
- You have a new or higher fever.
- Your headache gets much worse.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You are not getting better after 2 days (48 hours).
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter U690 in the search box to learn more about "Migraine Headache: Care Instructions".
Current as of: December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine