Migraines affect about one in ten Canadians. So, it is likely that you may have a family member, friend, relative, or coworker who has a migraine.

Here is more about migraine and how you may help someone with migraine symptoms.

What Is A Migraine

Migraine is a nerve-related disorder that may cause various symptoms, including an intense headache. Other symptoms are vomiting, nausea, sensitivity to sound and light, and difficulty speaking.

Your doctor will diagnose migraine based on symptoms, history and ruling out other causes.

You can read more about migraines and their types in our previous blog here.

What Does It Look Like?

A migraine may look different for everyone, and its symptoms depend on the type of migraine one may be suffering from.

In most cases, the symptoms appear in the following stages:

  • Before a headache: During this stage, a person may experience sensory and physical symptoms.
  • During a headache: One may have mild to severe pulsing or throbbing headaches. Some common symptoms include vomiting, nausea, and nasal congestion.
  • Resolution: It involves irritability and tiredness for the next two days, and this stage is also known as a migraine hangover.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Inability to carry out daily activities
  • Head pain that is more during straining or physical activity
  • Increased sensitivity to sound and light and is better by lying in a dark and silent room
  • Excess sweating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Temperature changes

Treatment and Medication for Relief

In most cases, migraines are commonly managed with medicines.

Here the two major groups of drugs:

  • Preventive treatment: To reduce the severity and frequency of migraines.
  • Acute treatment: To manage pain and other symptoms of migraine.

Medicines for Acute Treatment

These drugs are used when migraine symptoms or auras occur to reduce the severity of the headache or relieve it.

However, taking these medicines too often may result in a rebound headache, a type of headache that occurs due to overuse of medicine, requiring additional medication.

If you need these medicines more than nine times a month, it is best to consult your doctor about the need for preventive drugs.

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Here are some common types of medicines:


Some over-the-counter painkillers are significantly effective for migraine pain. Apart from acetaminophen, these drugs belong to the group of medications known as anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which manage inflammation and pain.

Some common medicines are:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen
  • Acetaminophen
  • Diclofenac
  • Ketorolac

Many OTC medicines effective for migraines have some amount of caffeine, allowing them to work quickly, especially for mild migraine headaches.

Some side effects associated with the use of these medicines include:


They were the first class of drugs used to manage migraines. They contract the blood vessels around your brain, relieving migraine within a few minutes.

You can get these medicines as tablets that dissolve under your tongue, pills, nasal sprays, injections, and suppositories.

They need to be taken at the appearance of symptoms and repeated every 30 minutes if the headache continues.

Common Ergotamines are:

Ergotamines can have severe side effects such as heart problems and birth defects. So, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should not take these medicines.


This newer class of medicines increases serotonin levels, a chemical that reduces inflammation and constricts your blood vessels. All this helps in relieving migraines.

You can get triptans as nasal sprays, tablets that dissolve under your tongue, pills, and injections.

Some common medicines include:

  • Eletriptan
  • Naratriptan
  • Sumatriptan
  • Zolmitriptan
  • Almotriptan
  • Frovatriptan 
  • Rizatriptan 
  • Sumatriptan and Naproxen

Common side effects of triptans include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Numbness or tingling in your toes
  • Dizziness
  • Discomfort or tightness in your chest

They can also cause serotonin syndrome if taken with other medicines that increase serotonin levels.

If you are at risk for stroke or have heart diseases, you should avoid taking triptans.

Antinausea drugs

They help in managing nausea and vomiting that can accompany severe migraine headaches. They should be taken with pain killers as they cannot relieve pain.

Some common drugs are:

  • Metoclopramide
  • Promethazine
  • Dimenhydrinate
  • Prochlorperazine
  • Trimethobenzamide 

Common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased alertness
  • Dizziness


They are used when you do not respond to pain killers and cannot take triptans or ergotamines.

Some common opioids are:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Meperidine
  • Oxycodone

They are highly addictive and thus be used only if needed.

Medicines for Preventive Treatment

If you often get migraines frequently, your doctor may prescribe a preventive medication to reduce the intensity and frequency of migraines.

Unlike medicines for acute headaches, they should be taken daily. These medicines can be advised alone or in combination with other drugs.

It may take several weeks or months for these medications to be effective.

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Some common medicines are:

CGRP antagonists

They are the newest class of medicines used to prevent migraines. They act by working on the calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a protein present in the brain associated with migraines.

Common examples include:

  • Fremanezumab
  • Erenumab


These medicines are mainly used to manage high blood pressure. They reduce the effect of stress hormones on your blood vessels and heart, reducing the intensity and frequency of migraine headaches.

Common examples include:

  • Metoprolol
  • Propranolol
  • Atenolol 
  • Nadolol 
  • Timolol 

Side effects may include:

Calcium channel blockers

They are used for hypertension and are responsible for relaxing and constricting your blood vessels, relieving migraine pain.

Examples include:

  • Nimodipine
  • Diltiazem
  • Verapamil

Side effects may include:

  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness


They alter levels of certain brain chemicals, including serotonin. Improved serotonin levels constrict blood vessels and lower inflammation, reducing migraines.

Common examples include:


Mainly used to prevent seizures caused by epilepsy, they also help relieve migraines and reduce their frequency.

Some anticonvulsants include:

  • Divalproex-sodium
  • Levetiracetam
  • Tiagabine
  • Valproate
  • Gabapentin
  • Pregabalin
  • Topiramate
  • Zonisamide

Side effects of anticonvulsants may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Diarrhea

They can be repeated every three months but can be costly.

Frequency and Dosage of Medication

Different medicines have different doses and frequencies at which they can be repeated. It also differs for everyone.

So, it is best to consult a doctor and follow their advice regarding dosage and frequency.

Other Precautions and Care

While there is no permanent cure for migraines, there are many things you can do for a person suffering from migraines to help them suffer less, get better control of the condition, and live a better life.

When your loved ones know that you are there to care, it will empower them.

If you want to help someone with migraine symptoms, here are a few tips that will help you get started:

Ask How You Can Help

You may not know what is going in their mind unless you ask them. If you can help them with what’s troubling them or something important, you can make them happy. For instance, you can help with groceries, pick up kids, or drop off a delivery.

Just being there for your loved ones when they have a migraine can mean a lot to them. And if you don’t know how to help, the best thing to do is ASK.

Adjust Lightning of the Room

Bright light can aggravate or trigger a migraine attack.

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So, add a dimmer switch, replace fluorescent bulbs, and close the drapes.

Plan Things That May Divert Their Mind

You can ask them what they prefer and wouldn’t trigger a migraine. For instance, you can plan a drama instead of a 3D adventure and yoga instead of hiking.

Come up with a list that you both could enjoy. This will not make your loved ones feel bad that they cannot do things you love and vice versa.

It’s Okay If the Plans Get Canceled

Many people with migraines feel bad when plans are canceled because of them. They think they let you down. Saying “okay” will take the guilt away. Try to do this even if you are frustrated.

Keep Pungent Foods and Strong Smell Away

Keep away all the food items that may trigger nausea. It is also best to avoid strong-smelling perfumes.

Prepare A Migraine First Aid

This could include eyeshades, ice packs, earplugs, lavender or menthol, and many such things to prevent a migraine attack.

Work Instead of Them If You Can

If you can help them with their work, it would give them rest. If you cannot, you can inform their bosses or colleagues that they are severely disabled and won’t be able to work.

Other Things That You Can Do

  • Turn the volume down
  • Drive for them
  • Give them gifts they would love
  • Draw up a bath
  • Make a meal for them
  • Accompany them for their doctor’s appointment
  • Support their diet
  • Treat them with a massage
  • Send them a loved note
  • Clean their room
  • You can also prepare a migraine diary for them
  • Know their treatment plan
  • Make sure that they treat a migraine immediately
  • Offer cold masks or packs
  • Help them improve their diet and lifestyle
  • Be their gym or workout buddy

When To Consult A Doctor?

Here are some indications that your loved ones need a doctor consultation:

  • Worsening of migraine symptoms
  • Severe symptoms
  • Visual disturbances
  • An unusually severe headache
  • Difficulty speaking
  • A loss of sensation

Final Thoughts

Migraine is much more severe than a typical headache. It may cause extreme pain, sensitivity to sound and light, and nausea and vomiting. Throbbing pain can interfere with the quality of your life and ruin your day.

You may never be able to imagine how a migraine may feel. But knowing common symptoms, your loved ones often get, can help you understand how you can make them comfortable.

Know their treatment plan and common side effects of the medicines. There are also small gestures that you can do to help someone with migraine symptoms. 

Note them down and use them the next time a loved one needs your help.

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