Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Migraines & Headaches Health Center

Font Size

What Not to Do for Migraines

Experts issue new guidelines to avoid unnecessary tests, risky treatments

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Nov. 21, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Prescription pain medications should not be the first treatment for migraines. And doctors shouldn't routinely order brain scans for patients with these debilitating headaches, according to new guidelines.

Taking a stand on common but often unnecessary or potentially risky tests and treatments for migraine, the American Headache Society published new recommendations in the November-December issue of the journal Headache.

"Our aim is to encourage doctors and patients to think carefully about medical care that can be harmful or unnecessary," said Dr. Elizabeth Loder, president of the American Headache Society. "We didn't approach this with cost uppermost in mind. The goal is to help address the problems of low-value care."

Opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, and the barbiturate butalbital pose serious long-term risks, the society said.

"The effectiveness of opioids is not the question," explained Loder, chief of the division of headache and pain in the neurology department at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "The problem is that even if they are effective in a single attack, for many people migraine is a chronic disorder that they will have for many decades."

The risk of dependency associated with these drugs is evidenced by the growing epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse in the United States. Nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by opioid painkillers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This ends up being a second problem patients have," Loder noted.

Using too much of these pain medications can also lead to a condition called medication overuse headache, said another expert.

"There is a lot of research that opioids actually increase the sensitivity to pain in the head," said Dr. Rebecca Erwin Wells, assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. Medication overuse headaches are difficult to treat, Wells added.

In addition, the guidelines indicate that brain scan studies should not be performed on patients with stable headaches that meet criteria for migraine. And CT scans should not be used in a non-emergency situation as a diagnostic tool for headache patients when MRI is available.

Today on WebMD

Business woman with hand on face and eyes closed
What aura looks like, triggers, and more.
woman with migraine
Get the truth about migraines.
headache in the bedroom
Keep headaches from ruining your sex life.
woman with hands on head
Test your knowledge of triggers, types, and more.
woman with migraine
drinking coffee
Migraines Headaches Basics
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Tired young man
spraying perfume
man with a headache
headache in the bedroom