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How to Get Migraine Relief Without Spending a Fortune

In the hunt for migraine relief, some people shop in Canada for a brand name triptan and others try inducing brain freeze.

Everyone who suffers from migraine headaches would like to know how to get migraine relief. For the past two and half decades, drug manufacturers have offered effective medications for these severe headaches. But not everyone can afford the brand name versions. One reader was disappointed with the effect of generic sumatriptan.

Looking for Affordable Migraine Relief:

Q. I used the brand Imitrex for migraine headaches for years with excellent results. After being switched to generic sumatriptan, I get only half the migraine relief that Imitrex provided. Often the headaches recur, dragging on for days. What’s more, I get hives every time that I take the medication. I never had hives with Imitrex. I can’t afford over $700 for the brand name medicine. What can you suggest?

A. The FDA has assured the public that all generic drugs are the same as their brand-name counterparts. It requires the active ingredient of any generic to fall within a fairly narrow dosing range of the original medication.

Despite this, many people report changes in effectiveness or unexpected side effects when they take the generic versions. Your hives could be a reaction to one of the so-called inactive ingredients in generic sumatriptan. The FDA does not require that these be the same as in the brand-name formulation.

Buying Brand Name Medicine from Canada:

You might consider purchasing brand-name Imitrex from a legitimate Canadian drugstore. The price is dramatically lower than in the US and should offer you the migraine relief you remember. Be careful about selecting the store online, however. It must be registered with a Canadian province in which it has brick-and-mortar stores. You will find criteria and a list of reputable pharmacies in our eGuide to Saving Money on Medicines

Relieving Migraines with Sonic Slush:

We know that the last thing a person with a major migraine would want to do is add to the misery by inducing brain freeze. And yet we have heard from a great many readers that if they can trigger temporary brain freeze they can get migraine relief. Here is just the latest example of this very odd home remedy.

Frappuccino vs. Sonic Slush for Migraine Relief

Q. I’ve been suffering from migraines for nearly 20 years and max out all my migraine meds every month. Years ago, my doctor told me to try a Starbucks Frappucino to stop a migraine. This worked for a while, but I think my body became resistant to brain freeze from mildly cold products. Even ice cubes stopped working.

Recently, though, I had a Sonic Slush. That slush gave me terrible brain freeze. At the time I didn’t have a headache.

Then I got a migraine and the medication was not kicking it. I went and got myself a slush. I drank it fast, nonstop, until brain freeze hit. Bam, the migraine was instantly gone.

I’ve done this with my past two migraines. The migraine comes back within an hour or so, so I continue to drink the slush. It works like a charm.

Now when I get a migraine, I’m just going to induce brain freeze and see if I can stay away from the meds. Rather than an ice cube, I’ll try grinding the ice and see if I can save a trip to Sonic.

Migraine Relief By Triggering TRP Channels:

A. We suspect that this fascinating migraine remedy works through transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, specifically TRPM8. This channel helps nerves sense cold and is also sensitive to compounds such as menthol. Research shows that TRPM8 is implicated in migraines (Headache, Oct. 2016).

If brain freeze can help you beat your migraine headaches, we applaud you.

Here is a comment from another reader:

“I just watched a video of a guy suggesting brain freeze cures migraines. Minutes ago, I held ice to the roof of my mouth. By the third piece, I was headache free although I’d had this migraine all day. IT’S GONE.”

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Other Stories from Readers:

Gloria shared her substitute brain freeze strategy:

“After 50 years of almost daily migraine attacks I found out by accident that drinking a Starbucks Frappuccino could knock out my migraine immediately.

“Once I got a migraine during a wild thunder and lightning storm. It was a somewhat remote area with no Starbucks nearby. I went to a McDonalds and had a chocolate milkshake. Voila! Same help.

“It’s the brain freeze that is ‘the checker’ there for me. Ice water will not do it. The viscosity is, I believe, necessary.”

DBB discovered brain freeze on his own:

“I’ve used the ‘brain freeze’ method of treating headaches for many decades. A really massive hangover while I was in college was the inspiration. I stopped at a 7-Eleven for a Slurpee, and I took way too big a mouthful. I tried to swallow it quickly, as it was too cold for my mouth, and next came the dreaded brain freeze. As I waited for the brain freeze to wear off, I discovered that my bad headache had abated greatly.

“I’ve used this technique on migraines with pretty good results. I find that if I catch a migraine early, then a brain freeze works very well. The longer I let the migraine go on, though, the less effective the brain freeze is.”

Kelly reported: 

“I had migraines for 20 years. I heard about this a few years ago on People’s Pharmacy. Works! Ice water doesn’t do it for me I have to eat ice cream or a frozen fruit bar. I also guzzle water to ensure I’m really hydrated. And every now & then I have to eat some protein.”

Brain Freeze won’t work for everyone. One woman raised this concern.

“Nearly two years ago, I tried the brain freeze treatment after having what I thought was a pre-migraine aura. Immediately after eating part of a frozen popsicle, I lost the ability to find words or form a sentence. This lasted for some minutes.

“My spouse and I started off to an ER, fearing a possible stroke. By the time we got there, I could speak fine. I was kept overnight and given many expensive tests, all with negative results, thankfully. Did I have a TIA? Or can brain freeze simulate a TIA? Perhaps caution is advisable in using this remedy.”

Karen thinks the cure is worse than the condition:

“I tried inducing brain freeze with my most recent headache, and it was excruciating! I’ll stick with pouring cold water on my head. That’s what I’ve done for about a year. I put my head under the cold water tap and let the water run over my head a couple of minutes and thoroughly wet my hair. That will stop an early migraine. (We have well water, so it is always very cold.) If the headache starts coming back, I just repeat.”

Learn more about the latest migraine relief medicines by listening to our interview with a headache specialist from the Cleveland Clinic:

Show 1055: What Are the Best Treatments for Headaches?

Share your own headache story in the comment section below. You may also find our Guide to Headaches and Migraines has some useful information.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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