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Understanding migraines: What works, what doesn’t, and where to find help

Why pharmacists are often the first line of defence for migraine sufferers
Registered Pharmacist Michelle Gray of Gray’s Compounding Pharmacy in Kimberley.

Millions of Canadians live with migraine headaches, and pharmacists are often the first line of defence for those seeking relief.

“We’re accessible. Pharmacists are in nearly every community, and you don’t typically need an appointment to receive certified medical advice,” says Michelle Gray, pharmacist and owner of Gray’s Compounding Pharmacy in Kimberley.

Over-the-counter medications are often the first remedy people reach for when experiencing headaches or migraines, and that means a trip to the local pharmacy. But not all headaches are the same, and not all people react to treatment the same way. That’s why it’s important to work with a medical professional to treat your symptoms, and act with compassion when friends or co-workers are experiencing migraines.

“There’s still stigma associated with migraine headaches, among the general community and among medical professionals. Finding a health care provider who’s educated in the latest headache treatment can go a long way towards relieving your symptoms,” Michelle says.

Migraine causes, treatments

‘Headache’ is a general term describing pain in the head, neck and shoulders, which can be caused by many things including muscle tightness, dehydration, lack of sleep and more. A migraine headache is a neurological condition leading to pain and other symptoms which may last for hours or days.

“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution to migraine relief. That’s why it’s important to closely monitor your triggers, symptoms and treatments, and to work closely with a medical professional to find a solution that works for you,” Michelle says.

  • Multi-pronged approach: “Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen combat inflammation, while triptans bind to serotonin receptors. Sometimes the combination of these two different medications can offer a better chance of relief,” Michelle says. Combine medications with other treatments including acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic care, cognitive behavioral therapy and massage.
  • Overuse of medications: It’s important to be cautious of the number of days per month that you use your migraine medication. Using multiple types of medication may mean you end up using less medication overall. “When we talk about overdose, most people think of street drugs. But prescription misuse can also lead to overdose. Any time a prescription medication is used in a way not intended by your doctor, like giving a friend one of your migraine pills or taking a larger dose than prescribed, you’re putting yourself at risk.”
  • Migraine tracker: Consider using a Migraine Tracker app to monitor triggers, symptoms and treatment success.
  • Hormone therapy: For those whose migraines are linked to their menstrual cycle, hormone therapy can help reduce triggers.
  • Reduce triggers: Light and sound are common triggers of migraines, as is stress, certain foods and changes in the weather. Practice advocating for your needs to stop migraines before they start.

Find Gray’s Compounding Pharmacy at 417B 304th St. on Highway 95 in Kimberley, open Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Get in touch at 250-427-0038 or at