Epilepsy MUSC

Comprehensive Epilepsy Center

Migraine Headache Information

Patient and Family Education About Migraine Headaches

What is a migraine headache?
Migraine headaches are more common in children than people think. A migraine is a recurrent headache that typically lasts 4-72 hours in adults. In children, a migraine attack may last 1-72 hours. In general, migraine headaches are unilateral (on one side) in location, pulsating in quality, moderate to severe in intensity, and associated with nausea and/or sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia). In general, routine physical activity worsens a migraine headache. In children, migraines are commonly bilateral (on both sides) and on the front and sides of the head. A patient may or may not have an aura before the migraine occurs. An aura is a warning sign, such as a flashing light or unusual feeling. Pediatric migraine headaches often have a genetic basis. Therefore, a child with migraines will often have a close relative with a history of migraines.

Abortive Treatment Options:
It is important to have an abortive or rescue headache plan in place. This plan is to help you get rid of the pain. These medications are to be taken at the onset of the headache. These medications are not to be used more than 2-3 times per week, as outlined by your health care provider. Your health care provider will recommend which type of abortive to use during a headache. Your health care provider may have to change your abortive medication several times before finding one that works to treat your headaches. Using the correct dosage of the abortive medication is crucial. Examples of abortive medications are acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Preventative Treatment Options:
These medications are taken daily to reduce the frequency and severity of the headaches. These medications are prescribed when the migraine headaches are frequent and disabling. These medications take time to work, and they are rarely able to completely do away with all of your headaches. The goal of preventative medicine is a 50% reduction in headaches.

Biobehavioral Management - Life Style Changes:
These approaches to dealing with headaches can be as helpful as medications.

  • Get 8-10 hours of sleep each night.
  • Stay on a regular sleep schedule, going to bed the same time each night.
  • Do not watch television in bed.
  • Regular mealtimes are important and should include 3 healthy meals each day. Regular exercise of moderate intensity for 30 minutes 3-5 days per week.
  • Stay hydrated and drink at least 2 liters of non-caffeinated liquid daily.
  • Carry a water bottle to class. If needed, your health care provider can write a note to your school to allow you to carry a water bottle to class.
  • Do not chew gum.
  • Do not carry heavy backpacks.

Integrative Treatment Options:
Biofeedback: With this technique, an individual is trained to improve his/her health by learning to control certain internal bodily processes such as heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. This type of therapy is often used to help treat migraines, insomnia, and panic disorders

Nonprescription Treatments:
These are vitamin supplements to help prevent migraine headaches. These supplements take time to work as well. Speak with your health care provider before starting any of these supplements.

  • Magnesium Oxide: Take with a meal to reduce stomach upset. Take with a full glass of water.
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): Available as a tablet.
  • Coenzyme Q10: Available as a capsule, gelcap, or solution.
  • Butterbur Root (Petasites): Available as a capsule.
  • Feverfew: Available as a capsule.

Diet and Headaches:
Diet can play an important role in headache management. Individuals with headaches may be sensitive to certain foods, beverages, or food additives. In addition, dehydration and skipped meals also trigger headaches. You may want to note which foods you ate around the time of your headache and try eliminating these foods from your diet.


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