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Trying New Treatments

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.

Controlling for variables

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.

Understanding a combination of treatments may be needed

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?

Outline treatments to try

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 your research

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.

Work with your health care provider

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • simplygourdjus
    6 years ago

    I have been reading your posts on since I became “chronic” in July 2011. I’m always amazed….because as I read them, it’s as if I’m reading the story of my own life. I would say that 90% of what you write about, is almost instantly after I wrote it myself in my Migraine Journal. Just this past Friday (Jan 3, 2014) I saw yet another Neuro. He was rude..but that’s another story for another time. Point is, he wants me to try 4 new treatments. Botox (of course I’ve heard this 1 many times), A “sleep study” because I rarely sleep longer than 4 hrs at a time and I wake myself up constantly Talking in my sleep! Crazy! Then the 3rd, is yet another seizure type of drug, taken daily with the slow weekly increased doses. UGH!! The 4th, is the “DHE” IV infusions. My head is just spinning! The costs $$$?? The time??!! The side effects??!! ZERO job! ???

  • Newdancerco
    6 years ago

    After 20 years of treatments, I cannot emphasis enough how important it is to log each treatment, when you tried it, where/what doctor, for how long, and what happened. Not just “it didn’t work” but changes to the migraine other than disappearance and side effects.
    I didn’t. I had a photographic memory, I was completing a chemistry degree without studying- of COURSE I would be able to remember something this important.
    Wrong. Topamax gave me problens with aphasia that never cleared up completely, even after being off it for over 4 years. I cannot pull the medication names from my skull anymore.
    Others are so similar, or I’ve used so many different combinations, it is simply not possible to keep them straight.
    I wish I had a spreadsheet of drug, dose, dr, etc. Since my treatnebt was in 4 states and includes at least 7 neurologists (that’s off the top of my head), over a dozen PCPs, and various naturopaths,psychiatrists, psychologists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, Chinese practitioners (I was doing Kung fu and was referred by my Sifu), dentists (bite guards were a theory for a while), etc…
    Well, recreating the spreadsheet now is hopeless!!

    Start now. I am- I can’t fix what I missed, but I can do better going forward. I personally think this is more valuable to you than the overly detailed headache journals I’m starting to see. My doc only ever wants a single number for a day, so do a simple journal and incorporate this info. Kill 2 birds, as they say.

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