Drugs for Headache Pain Relief

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.

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

PanadolTylenol

Pain relief

Headache treatment

 

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

Aspirin

Bayer, Bufferin

Pain relief

Headache treatment

Do not use in children younger than age 19 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

Ocufen

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

 

Gastrointestinal upset, drowsiness, dizziness, vision problems, ulcers

Ibuprofen

Advil, Motrin IB

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

 

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

Cambia, , Zipsor, Zorvolex

Treatment of tension headache; migraines

 

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

Ketorolac

 

Treatment of tension headache

 

Gastrointestinal upset, drowsiness, dizziness, vision problems, ulcers

Meclofenamate

 

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

 

Treatment of tension headache

 

Drowsiness, dizziness, headache, nervousness, blurred vision

Methocarbamol

Robaxin

Treatment of tension headache

 

Dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, darkening of urine

Cyclobenzaprine HCL

Amrix

Treatment of tension headache

 

Dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness

Metaxalone

Skelaxin

Treatment of tension headache

 

Drowsiness, dizziness, headache, nervousness

 

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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, naproxen, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)  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 blood thinners.
  • Check with your doctor before taking acetaminophen if you have kidney or liver problems.

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 26, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

National Migraine Association. 

Cleveland Clinic.

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