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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