Migraine Headaches - Medications
Two kinds of medicines are used to
- Medicines to stop a migraine.
These are sometimes called abortive medicines. These may be
over-the-counter or prescription medicines. If you
take the medicine at the first sign you're getting a migraine, you may stop the
headache before it starts.
- Medicines to prevent migraines. These drugs are often called preventive medicines. You get
them with a prescription. You take these every day or whenever your doctor
tells you to.
Finding the right mix of medicines for you may
take some time. So work closely with your doctor to try different medicines and
In most cases, your
doctor will first prescribe a drug that causes the fewest side effects. Drugs
may be prescribed based on your type of migraine.
Medicines to stop a migraine
If your migraines are mild to moderate, you may need only an
over-the-counter drug to stop the pain. Most doctors recommend that you try
these drugs first, because they may have fewer side effects than prescription
drugs. If over-the-counter drugs don't stop your headaches, your doctor may
prescribe other medicine.
Your doctor may
suggest that you take a mix of medicines to stop a headache. For example, you
may take acetaminophen or naproxen along with a prescription medicine, such as
Drugs used to stop a migraine include:
- Over-the-counter medicines
like acetaminophen (Tylenol, for example) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as
aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Brand names
for NSAIDs include Bayer, Advil, and Aleve. Some
over-the-counter medicines (for
example, Excedrin) combine acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine.
- Triptans (serotonin receptor agonists), such as sumatriptan
(Imitrex) and zolmitriptan (Zomig).
- Ergotamine derivatives, such as Cafergot.
- Midrin, which is a
mix of the drugs isometheptene, acetaminophen, and
Medicines to prevent migraines
Drugs used to prevent migraines include:
You may want to try medicine to prevent a headache
- You are using medicines to stop headaches
more than twice a week.
- Medicines to stop migraines aren't working
well for you.
- You have two or more headaches a month that keep you
from doing your daily activities.
- You have uncommon migraine
symptoms, such as a long period with aura or numbness during your
For more information, see:
- Headaches: Should I Take Medicine to Prevent Migraines?
What to Think About
Taking medicine too often to stop a migraine can
cause more headaches. These
rebound headaches are different from
migraine headaches. They usually start after pain medicine
wears off, which leads you to take another dose.
After a while, you get a headache whenever you stop taking
Talk to your doctor if you are taking
headache medicine more than 2 days a week. Take your medicine as
prescribed by your doctor.
Other things to think about
- Depression and migraines. Many people who have migraines also have depression. Taking
prescription medicine for both problems is common.
- Make sure your doctor knows about all the
medicines that you take. In very rare cases, a serious condition called
serotonin syndrome may happen when a person takes a triptan for migraines and an SSRI (selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitor) or SNRI (selective serotonin/norepinephrine
reuptake inhibitor) for depression. But most people have no problems
when they take these medicines together. Talk to your doctor if you are
concerned about this problem.
- Antinausea medicine. If you have nausea or vomiting during migraine attacks, your doctor also may prescribe medicine to help with these