The Evolution of Migraine Treatments: From Ancient Remedies to Modern Medications

The Evolution of Migraine Treatments: From Ancient Remedies to Modern Medications


As someone who has experienced the debilitating effects of migraine attacks, finding effective treatment options is of utmost importance. Over the centuries, the medical field has evolved, leading to advancements in migraine treatments. From ancient remedies rooted in herbal medicine to modern medications, the journey of treating migraine attacks has been a remarkable one.

Ancient Remedies for Migraine Attacks

Migraine attacks were not limited to the present; they have been recognized and documented throughout history. Ancient medical texts, such as the Ebers Papyrus from ancient Egypt, contain references to migraine attacks and their symptoms.

Herbal Remedies

One of the earliest methods of treating migraine attacks involved the use of herbal remedies. Ancient civilizations relied on the healing properties of herbs and plants to alleviate symptoms. Herbs like feverfew and butterbur were commonly used due to their potential to relieve pain and inflammation associated with migraine attacks.

For example, feverfew, a plant native to Europe, was traditionally used to treat headaches. Studies have shown that feverfew may reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks when taken regularly.

Butterbur, another herb, has also been used as a natural remedy for migraine attacks. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and can potentially reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. However, it is important to consult a healthcare professional before using any herbal remedies.

Other Ancient Remedies

Aside from herbal remedies, ancient civilizations employed various other treatments for migraine attacks, although some may seem unconventional to modern standards. Bloodletting, a practice that involved deliberately drawing blood from the body, was believed to relieve migraine attacks by removing “excess humors” responsible for the pain.

Trepanation, another ancient method, involved drilling holes into the skull. It was thought to release evil spirits or demons causing migraine attacks. While these methods were widely practiced in ancient times, they lacked scientific evidence and could potentially be harmful.

The Early Development of Medical Treatments

The 19th and early 20th centuries saw early developments in medical treatments specifically targeted towards migraine attacks.

Introduction of Ergotamine

In the 19th century, ergotamine, a compound derived from the ergot fungus, was discovered to have vasoconstrictive properties. It was used as a migraine treatment due to its ability to narrow the blood vessels in the brain. While ergotamine was effective for some individuals, it often caused side effects and was not suitable for everyone.

Aspirin and Other Non-Specific Pain Relievers

As the understanding of pain relief mechanisms improved, non-specific pain relievers like aspirin gained popularity in treating migraine attacks. Salicylates, the active ingredient in aspirin, have anti-inflammatory properties and can alleviate pain. However, these medications do not specifically target the underlying causes of migraine attacks and are primarily used for symptomatic relief.

The Rise of Opioid Medications

In the early 20th century, opioid medications, such as narcotics, were introduced as migraine treatments. While opioids provided pain relief, their long-term use was associated with concerns of addiction and various side effects. As a result, their use in migraine treatment has become less common over time.

Breakthroughs in Modern Migraine Medications

The development of modern migraine medications has revolutionized the way migraine attacks are treated, providing more targeted relief and preventive options.

Triptans: A New Era of Migraine Treatment

The introduction of triptans marked a significant advancement in migraine treatment. Triptans, such as sumatriptan, work by stimulating serotonin receptors and reducing the inflammation of blood vessels in the brain. Triptans have been successful in relieving migraine symptoms for many individuals and are available in various forms, including oral tablets, nasal sprays, and injections.

Preventive Medications

Recognizing the importance of preventing migraine attacks, several medications are now prescribed as prophylactic (preventive) treatments. Beta-blockers, commonly used to manage heart conditions, have shown efficacy in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. Anticonvulsants and certain antidepressants may also be prescribed for migraine prevention, as they can help regulate brain chemicals involved in pain modulation.

Botox for Migraine Attacks

The discovery of Botox as a migraine treatment has provided an alternative option for individuals who do not respond well to other treatments. Botox injections, typically administered every 12 weeks, work by temporarily blocking nerve signals that contribute to migraine attacks. While Botox has been shown to be effective in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks for some patients, it may not work for everyone and can have potential side effects.

CGRP Inhibitors: A Recent Breakthrough

Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors represent a recent breakthrough in migraine treatment. CGRP is a neuropeptide involved in the transmission and modulation of pain signals associated with migraine attacks. CGRP inhibitors, such as preventive monoclonal antibodies, target CGRP or its receptor to block its effects. This innovative class of medications has shown promise in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

Personal Experiences with Migraine Treatments

For individuals suffering from migraine attacks, finding the right treatment often involves a process of trial and error.

The Frustration of Trial and Error

Dealing with migraine attacks often means trying various medications and treatments to find what works best. It can be frustrating when a treatment that has helped someone else does not provide the same relief. Some individuals also experience side effects from certain medications.

Importance of Individualized Treatment Plans

Each person’s experience with migraine attacks is unique, meaning that a one-size-fits-all approach may not be effective. It is crucial for healthcare providers to listen to patients’ experiences and needs, adjusting the dosage and type of medication as necessary. Migraine Attacks may change over time, requiring periodic evaluation and adjustments to the treatment plan.

The Role of Migraine Tracking

Migraine tracking can be a valuable tool for individuals and their healthcare providers. Keeping a detailed record of symptoms, triggers, and treatments can help identify patterns and determine the effectiveness of a specific treatment approach. Migraine tracking apps and journals provide a convenient way to document and analyze migraine-related data.


The evolution of migraine treatments from ancient remedies to modern medications showcases the progress made in alleviating the burden of migraine attacks. While ancient remedies lacked scientific evidence and potentially caused harm, the introduction of modern medications has provided targeted relief and preventive options. Finding the right treatment approach can be a journey, requiring individualized plans and the use of migraine tracking tools. By exploring various options and keeping track of experiences, individuals can increase their chances of managing migraine attacks effectively.

Jenny from Migraine Buddy

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