Two kinds of medicines are used to treat migraines:
- 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 doses.
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 can help you feel better. But they can also be dangerous, especially if you don't take them the right way. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
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.
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 Advil, Aleve, and Bayer. 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.
Medicines to prevent a migraine
Drugs used to prevent migraines include:
- Anticonvulsants, such as topiramate.
- AntidepressantsAntidepressants, such as amitriptyline.
- Antihistamine , such as cyproheptadine.
- Beta-blockers, such as propranolol.
- Botulinum toxinBotulinum toxin, such as Botox.
- Calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil.
You may want to try medicine to prevent a headache if:
- 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 headache.
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 the drug.
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 all your doctors know 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 symptoms.