Trying New Treatments
By Kerrie Smyres—January 2, 2014

Trying new migraine treatments makes my list of New Year’s resolutions every year. I start January excited by the possibilities and want to jump in and try all the possibilities at once. In the many years in which migraine has been my constant companion, I’ve learned the value of trying one new treatment at a time.

Starting each treatment on it’s own can be slow and frustrating, especially when you’re desperate for relief, but it’s the only way to truly know what’s working and what’s not, what the side effects of each treatment are, and whether spending that time and/or money is worthwhile.

“Controlling for variables” is what we call it in my household. That’s a fancy way of saying that you don’t want to muddy the waters. By changing only one variable (or treatment) at a time, you can more easily see how each one is working for you.

If you try a handful of new treatments at once and get relief, there’s no way to know which elements are responsible for the improvement. You could be investing a lot of time and money on ineffective treatments or restricting your diet unnecessarily because you’re not sure which strategy is doing the trick. You could also be dealing with a host of side effects for medications that aren’t even helping. If you’re only taking one new med at a time, you don’t have to waste energy sleuthing the culprit because it will be obvious.

This is not to say that you should only be on one medication or doing one type of treatment at any given time. Some people find one magic bullet that stops their migraine attacks, but this is the exception. Far more migraineurs need to combine a variety of different treatments, which add up to relief. But getting to the point of combining multiple treatments requires first identifying which individual ones are effective.

So, how do you approach testing each new treatment separately and still feel like you’re moving forward in your treatment?

Make a plan outlining the treatments you want to try. Consider what has the most potential benefit and what best suits you. Do you want to try medication or would you prefer to avoid it? Do you want to make lifestyle or dietary changes? Is Botox for you? Are you interested in exploring complementary or alternative treaments? The list is potentially endless. Once you start thinking about it, you’re likely to find that you already have several possibilities for what to try next rattling around in the back of your mind.

Do some research on the treatments you’re considering and prioritize your list. Which appear to have the most potential benefit? Do some have more bearable side effects than others? Do you have access to that treatment in your community? What’s most affordable? This is a very personal decision based on where you are with your migraines and in your life.

Give each treatment a set period of time and be sure your health care providers are on board. The time commitment varies depending on the treatment. For preventive medications, most headache specialists recommend taking it for three months before determining it doesn’t work. If you have unbearable side effects on a drug, you will likely stop it much sooner. For hands-on treatment, a reputable provider will give you a timeframe in which to expect to see some changes, though you may have to ask. A typical guideline for acupuncture, physical therapy, craniosacral therapy or massage is four to eight sessions. If you see no improvement at all after the specified period, it’s probably time to move on to another treatment, though only you and your provider can make that decision based on your response and needs.

Sometimes the one-at-a-time approach seems unbearably slow-moving, but it’s the easiest, most effective way to figure out what treatments work for you. It ultimately saves time, money, energy, frustration, and confusion.

Profile photo of Kerrie Smyres

About Kerrie Smyres

Now in her late 30s, Kerrie has had chronic migraine since she was 11. She's been writing about migraine and headache disorders on her blog, The Daily Headache, since 2005. Kerrie is also the cofounder of TheraSpecs, which makes eyewear for migraine and photophobia relief.

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