Drugs to Treat Migraine Headaches

Some medications can ease the pain and symptoms of a migraine headache. Other medications can prevent migraines. Talk to your doctor about which ones are right for you.

Drugs That Stop Migraines

You take these drugs at the first sign of a migraine to stop them. They are called "abortive" drugs. They prevent common symptoms like pain, nausea, and sound and light sensitivity. Some of these should not be used during a migraine with aura, so follow your doctor's instructions.

 

Category Generic Name Brand Name May be used during an aura? Some Side Effects
Over-the-counter ibuprofen Advil, Motrin   Stomach upset or bleeding

Rash

Swelling
  aspirin + acetaminophen + caffeine Excedrin Migraine

Excedrin

Goody's
  Heartburn

Anxiety

Insomnia

Allergic reaction

Liver damage

Blood in stool or vomit

Dizziness

Easy bruising
  acetaminophen Excedrin Tension Headache

Tylenol

Valorin
  Liver damage

Allergic reactions

Rashes
  naproxen

Aleve

Anaprox (prescription only) 

Naprosyn (prescription only)

 

  May raise risk of heart attack or stroke

Stomach upset

Stomach bleeding

Nausea

Vomiting

Rash

Liver damage
Ergot dihydroergotamine DHE-45 injection

Ergomar

Migranal intranasal
Yes, Migranal intranasal only Nausea

Numbness of fingers and toes
Vasoconstrictor combination acetaminophen + isometheptene mucate + dichloralphenazone Duradrin

Midrin

Nodolor
Yes Liver damage

Sedation

Nausea
Triptans sumatriptan succinate Imitrex injection, oral, or intranasal

Zecuity skin patch
No (injection)

Yes (oral, patch, or intranasal)
Dizziness

Tingling

Flushing

Feelings of heaviness, burning, or tightness

Chest discomfort

Nausea
  zolmitriptan Zomig Yes Dizziness

Tingling

Flushing

Feelings of heaviness, burning, or tightness

Chest discomfort

Nausea
  rizatriptan Maxalt Yes Dizziness

Tingling

Flushing

Feelings of heaviness, burning, or tightness

Chest discomfort

Nausea
  naratriptan Amerge Yes Dizziness

Tingling

Flushing

Feelings of heaviness, burning, or tightness

Chest discomfort

Nausea
  almotriptan Axert Yes Tiredness

Dizziness

Headache

Nausea

Numbness

Tingling
  frovatriptan Frova No Dizziness

Flushing

Palpitations

Chest pain

Headache

Tingling

Nausea
  eletriptan Relpax Yes Dizziness

Tingling

Flushing

Feelings of heaviness, burning, or tightness

Chest discomfort

Nausea

Headache
Combination triptan + NSAID sumatriptan + naproxen Treximet   May raise risk of heart attack or stroke

Head, jaw, chest, and arm discomfort, tightening, or tingling

Throat discomfort

Muscle cramps

Flushing

Gastrointestinal upset or bleeding

Nausea

Vomiting

Rash

Liver damage

Continued

Drugs for Migraine Prevention

You take these drugs every day to keep migraines from happening. They lessen the number and severity of your headaches. These drugs can also help if you can’t take migraine-specific drugs or if they don’t work for you. 

You have to take them one or more times every day for them to work. Your doctor may need to change the medications and adjust how much you take to figure out which drug or combination of drugs, and at which dosages, work best for you.

While you’re taking these drugs, write down how often you have headaches and how bad they are to help your doctor judge how well they are working. Most need days or weeks to take full effect.

Once your headaches are under control for 6 months or a year, it may be possible to taper off or stop these drugs. You may need to take the drugs for a longer time, though. Your doctor will advise you.

The medications listed include both over-the-counter and prescription drugs. These drugs aren't habit-forming, but any medication can cause unwanted side effects. Your doctor will adjust the dosage to give you the most relief with the fewest side effects.

 

Category Generic Name Brand Name Treatment Information Possible Side Effects
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories diclofenac Cataflam Headache pain relief

Menstrual migraine prevention
May raise risk of heart attack or stroke

Gastrointestinal upset

Drowsiness

Dizziness

Vision problems

Ulcers
  naproxen sodium Aleve

Anaprox
Headache pain relief

Menstrual migraine prevention
May raise risk of heart attack or stroke

Gastrointestinal upset or bleeding

Nausea

Vomiting

Rash

Liver damage
Tricyclic antidepressants amitriptyline Elavil Often started at low dosages and slowly increased to a helpful level.

EKG may be needed.

Blood tests may be needed while taking this medication.

Taken nightly.
Fatigue

Dry mouth

Weight gain

Constipation

Drowsiness

Blurred vision

Older adults also may feel confusion or faintness
SNRI antidepressants venlafaxine Effexor   Sleep problems

Drowsiness

Dizziness

Vision changes

Less sexual desire or ability

Headaches
Beta-blockers atenolol

metoprolol

nadolol

propranolol

timolol

 
  Depending on the form, may be taken one to three times a day. Fatigue

Depression

Weight gain

Memory disturbance

Faintness

Diarrhea
Calcium channel blockers nifedipine

verapamil

 
  Depends on the form. Often started at low dosages and slowly increased to a helpful level.

Taken twice a day. Usually the first dose is taken in the morning.
Constipation

Dizziness

Swelling

Fatigue
Anticonvulsants topiramate Qudexy XR

Topamax

Topiragen
Often started at low dosages and slowly increased to a helpful level. Tingling in the arms

Nausea

Drowsiness

Weight loss
  valproate Depacon

Depakene

Depakote

Stavzor
Depends on the form. Usually once or twice a day. Nausea

Tiredness

Tremor

Dizziness

Weight gain

Hair loss

Birth defects
Botulinum Toxin Type A onabotulinumtoxin A Botox Multiple injections are given about every 3 months to prevent chronic headache. Headache

Neck pain

Continued

 

Warning: You should not take triptans together with SSRI or SNRI antidepressants. You may get a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. Check all your medications with your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on February 11, 2017

Sources

SOURCES: 

Cleveland Clinic.

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