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Drugs to Treat Migraine Headaches

(continued)

Drugs That Prevent Migraines

Some people with frequent migraines take drugs on a daily basis. These drugs can also help if you can’t take migraine-specific drugs or if they don’t work for you. This treatment helps lessen the number and severity of your headaches.

You have to take them one or more times every day for them to work. Your doctor may have 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 the meds 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.

Drugs for Migraine Prevention

CategoryGeneric NameBrand NameTreatment InformationPossible Side Effects
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatoriesdiclofenacCataflamHeadache pain relief,
Menstrual migraine prevention
May raise risk of heart attack or stroke,
Gastrointestinal upset,
Drowsiness,
Dizziness,
Vision problems,
Ulcers
 naproxen sodiumAleve,
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 antidepressantsamitriptylineElavilFrequently started at low dosages and slowly increased to a therapeutic 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 antidepressantsvenlafaxineEffexor Sleep problems,
Drowsiness,
Dizziness,
Vision changes,
Less sexual desire or ability,
Headaches
Beta-blockerspropranolol,
metoprolol,
timolol,
nadolol,
atenolol
 Depending on the form, may be taken one to three times a day.Fatigue,
Depression,
Weight gain,
Memory disturbance,
Faintness,
Diarrhea
Calcium channel blockersverapamil,
nifedipine
 Depends on the form. Frequently started at low dosages and slowly increased to a therapeutic level.
Taken twice a day. Usually the first dose is taken in the morning.
Constipation,
Dizziness,
Swelling,
Fatigue
AnticonvulsantstopiramateTopamax,
Qudexy XR,
Topiragen
Frequently started at low dosages and slowly increased to a therapeutic level.Tingling in the arms,
Nausea,
Drowsiness,
Weight loss
 valproateDepacon,
Depakote,
Depaken,
Stavzor
Depends on the form. Usually once or twice a day.Nausea
Tiredness,
Tremor,
Dizziness,
Weight gain,
Hair loss,
Birth defects
Botulinum Toxin Type Aonabotulinumtoxin ABotoxMultiple injections are given about every 3 months to prevent chronic headache.Headache,
Neck pain

Warning: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a public health advisory about potential risks of taking triptans together with SSRI and SNRI antidepressants: "A life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome may occur when triptans are used together with a SSRI or a SNRI."

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 19, 2014
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