Placebo power can make a difference, even when it comes to treating migraine headaches.  A fascinating study of 66 migraine headache sufferers tested the placebo hypothesis by having the volunteers record symptoms of an untreated migraine at the start of the trial. Then, as they developed migraines later in the study, the participants were given a pill (in an envelope, so neither the patient nor the researchers knew at that point what it was) and a message that indicated the pill was the powerful anti-migraine medicine rizatriptan (Maxalt) or a look-alike placebo. The message was not always correctly matched to the treatment.

Even when the subjects received a placebo pill and a message saying it was a placebo, however, they got some relief compared to their untreated migraine. Pain relief was twice as great when the message with a rizatriptan pill said it was the real deal. The investigators conclude that a positive message administered with medicine can contribute significantly to its effectiveness.

[Science Translational Medicine, online Jan. 8, 2014]

There is more information on medication for migraines as well as non-drug approaches that may prove helpful in our Guide to Headaches & Migraines. 

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  1. DMW

    I know the pain of migraine, the vision disturbances, nausea, intolerance to light, smells and sound. Recently I heard that pure essential peppermint oil rubbed into the temples might help. Worried that the smell would make things worse I was reluctant to try. Finally, when I felt nothing could be worse than the pain I was experiencing, I rubbed a couple of drops of the pure, essential peppermint oil into my temples and within minutes (5-10) the pain had eased. Not only that… I did not experience the usual additional day of exhaustion -the feeling of having been hit by a bus.
    This did not work for tension headaches but pure essential lavender oil helps me to relax and often eases those types of headache for me.

  2. Judy K. W.

    That’s an awfully small number of subjects for so many segments: Placebo pill + placebo message; placebo pill + real message; real pill + placebo message; real pill + real message. About 16 people per segment. It’s good for a start, but for the investigators to state their conclusion so definitely is irresponsible.

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