Q&A: How to help a family member or friend with migraine

By: Steph Weatherley, Information and Support Services Advisor

22nd June 2022

In this blog, we answer common questions we get asked by people trying to support loved ones with migraine via The Migraine Trust helpline.

What is migraine?

Migraine is a severe and painful long-term health condition which can be a whole-body experience. Common symptoms of an attack can include:

  • problems with eye sight such as seeing flashing lights,
  • head pain,
  • being very sensitive to light, sounds and smells,
  • fatigue,
  • feeling nauseous and vomiting.

Different people get different symptoms. When having a migraine attack, the person may not be able to function normally. Migraine attacks usually last for between four hours and three days. Some symptoms may start about 24 hours before the head pain, and end about 24 hours after the head pain stops. Most people don’t have any symptoms in between migraine attacks.

How can I help someone with their migraine?

Migraine is quite common in children as well as adults. The things you can do to help someone with migraine are suitable for both adults and children.

Things you can do to help someone avoid a migraine attack include:

  • Reminding them of the importance of a regular and consistent wake-up routine.
  • Ensuring they have easy access to water and they are hydrated – dehydration can trigger migraine attacks.
  • It can be helpful to eat regularly, so have healthy snacks available throughout the day.
  • Finding ways to manage any stresses can be helpful. A lot of people find relaxation activities, and being able to talk about how they’re feeling can help.
  • Some people find if they start exercise suddenly or aren’t prepared for exercise it can trigger an attack. It’s important to encourage someone with migraine to start gently and make sure they drink plenty of water before, during and after any exercise.
  • Reducing triggers at home – this can include minimising lighting or using lamps instead of overhead lights, providing a quiet area and the opportunity to have a snack, drink and the option to rest in a quiet place.

Migraine can be very painful and a full body experience, and it can be difficult to help someone during a migraine attack. However, things you can do include:

  • Keeping the environment they are in quiet and dark. Noise and light can make migraine worse.
  • Supplying water to help keep them hydrated.
  • Ensuring they can access any medications that are prescribed or used during their migraine attacks. These might include Calpol, paracetamol, ibuprofen, triptans, anti-sickness medications, etc.
  • Applying ice packs/heat packs to the head and shoulders can help reduce the pain and discomfort.
  • Providing somewhere for them to lie down, rest or have a short nap can be all that is needed to stop a migraine attack.
  • Providing food or snacks if needed – some people find this helps, others are unable to eat.

What treatments can help people with migraine?

Usually, effective management of migraine consists of using a good acute treatment at the time of an attack. This may be a medication such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin or triptans if these are appropriate and can be used. If a person has four or more migraine attacks a month you may find that they take some form of preventive medication to help reduce the frequency and severity of their attacks.

Some people also try supplements such as riboflavin (B2) (400mg a day), magnesium (400mg a day) or co-enzyme Q10 (150mg a day). These provide relief for some people. Similar to preventive treatments, it can take around six to eight weeks to see any benefit and three months to see the full impact.

Acupuncture has also been reported to be helpful. Some devices such as the Cefaly device can also be useful, this does not work for everyone but it does benefit some people. Cefaly offers a 60-day cooling off period where the device can be returned and a partial refund is given. You can read more about the device and user testimonials on their website.

You can read more about non-drug migraine treatments here.

How can I provide further support to a loved one with migraine?

It can be very difficult supporting someone with migraine but asking them how you can help and listening to them is very useful and helps them to feel supported. Migraine can affect the whole family.

Unfortunately, there are very few support groups for people with migraine in the UK currently. Some headache clinics do run groups and support sessions for patients. Some local areas run groups for people with long-term conditions, which can include migraine and other pain conditions. You can see if there are any available near you by contacting your local authority or local wellbeing hub.

There are also a few migraine forums on HealthUnlocked (which is an online support community) and Facebook.

Migraine has a huge impact on wellbeing. Many people with migraine find support such as counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or other psychological approaches helpful. We have a blog from a Clinical Psychologist about the benefits of support for people with migraine, and also some suggestions for how to access support. We also have a really useful blog on migraine and anxiety.

People with migraine can also self-refer to their local Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) service as well. You can check eligibility here.

To learn more about migraine, types of migraine and their symptoms, click here. For more information about supporting a child with migraine, click here.