How Do Doctors Diagnose and Treat Migraines?

Because migraine headaches vary in different people — in some people, for example, they are triggered by hormones; in others, stress and lifestyle influence headaches — how doctors treat someone depends on the type of migraine being experienced by that person.

A doctor may recommend someone having migraines to keep a headache diary to help figure out what triggers the headaches. If your doctor has asked you to keep such a diary, the information you record will help the doctor establish the best treatment. A doctor may also take blood tests or imaging tests, such as a CAT scan or MRI of the brain, to rule out more serious medical problems that might cause a person's migraines.

Part of the treatment may involve making certain changes in your lifestyle — like changing your sleep patterns or dietary habits or avoiding certain stress factors that trigger your migraines. Your doctor may also start you on a pain relief medication or also prescribe medicines that help with nausea and vomiting. Some people need preventive medicines that are taken every day to reduce the number and severity of the migraines.

Some doctors teach a technique called biofeedback to their patients with migraines. This technique helps a person learn to relax and use the brain to gain control over certain body functions (like heart rate and muscle stress) that cause tension and pain. If a migraine begins slowly, many people can use biofeedback to remain calm and stop the attack.

There have also been studies indicating that some alternative methods, such as acupuncture and the use of certain herbs, can help some people. However, it is important to ask your physician about alternative medicines before deciding on them by yourself. This is especially true of herbal treatments because they can interfere with more traditional methods of treatment.