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Antidepressants for Migraine Headaches - Topic Overview

Antidepressant medicines, which are usually used to treat depression, can be effective in preventing migraine headaches. Antidepressants have some pain-relieving properties and may reduce duration and frequency of headaches. Antidepressants are also used to improve sleep problems.

Tricyclic antidepressants are used most to prevent migraines. Amitriptyline and nortriptyline are used most often. Both have been shown to be effective in preventing migraines.1

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If you feel a dull, steady pain that feels like a band tightening around your head, you may have a tension headache. If you feel throbbing that begins on one side and causes nausea or sound/light sensitivity, you may have a migraine. Visual disturbances, such as flickering points of light, may precede a migraine headache. If you feel a non-throbbing pain around one red, watery eye, with nasal congestion on that side of your face, you may have a cluster headache. If you feel a steady pain in the...

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Other antidepressants may be tried if you do not respond well to amitriptyline or nortriptyline. The choice of antidepressant to treat your migraines may depend on your ability to tolerate the side effects of the medicine.

Side effects of tricyclic antidepressants include:

Never suddenly stop taking antidepressants. The use of any antidepressant should be tapered off slowly and only under the supervision of a doctor. Abruptly stopping antidepressant medicine can cause negative side effects or a relapse into a depressive episode or panic disorder.

FDA advisories. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued:

  • An advisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of suicide. Talk to your doctor about these possible side effects and the warning signs of suicide.
  • A warning about taking triptans, used for headaches, with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) or SNRIs (selective serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). Taking these medicines together can cause a very rare but serious condition called serotonin syndrome.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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