Drugs for Migraine and Headache Pain

Pain relievers are typically the first drugs recommended by doctors for migraine and headaches. Many of these medications are over-the-counter, or available without a doctor's prescription, while other headache drugs require a prescription. When taking these headache drugs, avoid products that contain caffeine. Any medication containing barbiturates or narcotics should be used sparingly.

Note: if symptomatic relief medications are used more than twice a week, you should see your doctor, who may prescribe preventive headache medications. Overuse of symptomatic medications can actually cause more frequent headaches or worsen headache symptoms.

Drugs for relief of migraine or headache symptoms include:

Generic Name

Brand Name

Use

Precautions

Possible Side Effects

Acetaminophen

Tylenol

Pain relief

Few side effects if taken as directed, although they may include: changes in blood counts and liver damage

Aspirin

Bayer, Bufferin, Ecotrin

Pain relief

Do not use in children younger than age 14 years due to the potential for Reye's syndrome (a life-threatening neurological condition)

Heartburn, gastrointestinal bleeding, bronchospasm or constriction that causes narrowing of the airways, anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction), ulcers

Fenoprofen

Nalfon

Prevention of tension headaches; migraines; hormone headaches

Nausea, diarrhea, indigestion, dizziness, drowsiness

Flurbiprofen

Ansaid

Prevention of tension headaches; migraines. Treatment of tension headache; migraines

Gastrointestinal upset, drowsiness, dizziness, vision problems, ulcers

Ibuprofen

Advil, Motrin IB, Nuprin

Treatment of tension headache; migraines

Gastrointestinal upset, gastrointestinal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, rash, liver damage

Ketoprofen

Actron

Prevention of tension headaches; migraines. Treatment of migraines

Gastrointestinal upset, gastrointestinal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, rash, liver damage

Nabumetone

Relafen

Prevention of tension headaches; migraines

Constipation, heartburn, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting

Naproxen

Aleve

Prevention of tension headaches; hormone headaches. Treatment of migraines

Gastrointestinal upset, gastrointestinal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, rash, liver damage

Diclofenac

Cataflam

Treatment of tension headache; migraines

Stomach upset, bloating, dizziness, drowsiness, loss of appetite

Ketorolac

Toradol

Treatment of tension headache

Gastrointestinal upset, drowsiness, dizziness, vision problems, ulcers

Meclofenate

Meclomen

Treatment of tension headache

Nausea, diarrhea, indigestion, dizziness, drowsiness

Carisoprodol

Soma

Treatment of tension headache

Dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, headache, nervousness, skin rash, bleeding

Orphenadrine citrate

Norflex

Treatment of tension headache

Drowsiness, dizziness, headache, nervousness, blurred vision

Methocarbamol

Robaxin

Treatment of tension headache

Dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, darkening of urine

Cyclobenzaprine HCL

Flexeril

Treatment of tension headache

Dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness

Metaxalone

Skelaxin

Treatment of tension headache

Drowsiness, dizziness, headache, nervousness

Continued

Tips for Using Over-the-Counter Headache Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter pain relievers have been demonstrated to be safe when used as directed. But keep the following precautions in mind:

  • Know the active ingredients in each product. Be sure to read the entire label.
  • Do not exceed the recommended dosage on the package.
  • Carefully consider how you use pain relievers and all medications. It is easy to over-medicate yourself.
  • Check with your doctor before taking products containing aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen if: you have a bleeding problem; asthma; recently had surgery or dental surgery or are about to have surgery; have ulcers, kidney or liver disorders; or take any other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).
  • Check with your doctor before taking acetaminophen if you have kidney or liver problems.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on April 23, 2017

Sources

SOURCES: 

National Migraine Association. 

Cleveland Clinic.

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