are severe, debilitating headaches that are usually characterized by an intense
throbbing or pulsing in one area of your head. They can include sensitivity to
light, sound, and smell, create visual disturbances such as auras, and can even
cause nausea or vomiting. They are more than a headache and can affect your
are commonly treated with medication. There are two categories of drugs used to
treat migraines: acute treatment, for pain and other symptoms during a migraine
headache, and preventive treatment, to reduce the frequency and severity of
drugs are taken at the onset of migraine symptoms or auras to relieve a
headache or reduce its severity.
any of these drugs too often can lead to a rebound headache, headaches that arise from
overuse of medication, which then necessitate additional medication. If you
need to use acute migraine drugs more than nine times per month, talk to your
doctor about possible preventive treatments.
painkillers are commonly used for migraine, but many are only available in
prescription strength. Aside from acetaminophen, an analgesic that only
relieves pain, these drugs are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),
which relieve pain and reduce inflammation:
over-the-counter drugs marketed specifically for migraine or headaches in
general combine one or more of the drugs above with a small amount of caffeine,
which can make them work more quickly and effectively, especially for mild
side effects of long-term NSAID use include:
- heart attack
- kidney damage
- stomach ulcers
were the first class of drugs used specifically for migraines. They cause blood
vessels around your brain to contract and can relieve a migraine within a few
minutes. Ergotamines are available as pills, tablets that dissolve under your
tongue, nasal sprays, suppositories, and injections. They are generally taken
at the first sign of headache symptoms, and some have the option to take
additional doses every 30 minutes if the headache continues. Some ergotamines
can have dangerous side effects. They can cause birth defects and heart
problems, and are toxic in high doses. If you are pregnant or breast-feeding or
have heart disease, you should not take ergotamines. Ergotamines can also
interact negatively with other drugs, including antifungal and antibiotic medications.
are a newer class of drug that increases serotonin levels in your brain,
reducing inflammation and constricting blood vessels, effectively ending a
migraine. Triptans are available as pills, nasal sprays, injections, and tablets
that dissolve under your tongue, and work quickly to stop a migraine. Some
side effects of triptans include:
- tingling or numbness in your toes
- tightness or discomfort in your
chest or throat
with heart problems or who are at risk for stroke should avoid triptans.
Triptans can also cause the potentially fatal serotonin syndrome, if taken with
other drugs that increases serotonin, such as antidepressants.
drugs reduce nausea and vomiting that can accompany severe migraines. They are
usually taken along with a painkiller, as they do not reduce pain:
drugs may make you drowsy, less alert, or dizzy, and have other possible side
migraine pain does not respond to other painkillers and you can’t take
ergotamines or triptans, your doctor may prescribe opioids, much more powerful
painkillers. Many migraine drugs are a combination of opioids and painkillers.
Some opiods are:
carry a serious risk of addiction, so they are usually prescribed sparingly.
experience migraines frequently, your doctor may prescribe a preventive drug to
reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines. These drugs are taken on a
regular basis, usually daily, and may be prescribed alone or in combination
with other drugs. It may take several weeks or months for them to become
effective. These drugs are commonly used for other conditions and are also
effective for migraines.
prescribed for high blood pressure, beta-blockers decrease the effects of stress
hormones on your heart and blood vessels, and can help reduce both frequency
and intensity of migraines:
effects of beta-blockers include:
- dizziness when standing
Calcium channel blockers
channel blockers are blood pressure drugs that moderate the constriction and
dilation of your blood vessels, which plays a role in migraine pain.
effects of calcium channel blockers include:
- low blood pressure
- weight gain
affect levels of various brain chemicals, including serotonin. An increase of
serotonin can reduce inflammation and constrict blood vessels, helping
alleviate migraines. Some antidepressants used to treat migraines are:
effects of antidepressants include weight gain and decreased libido.
prevent seizures caused by epilepsy and other conditions. They alleviate migraine
symptoms by calming overactive nerves in your brain.
effects of anticonvulsants include:
- weight gain
- blurred vision
Botulinum toxin type A (Botox)
The FDA has approved Botox, Botulinum
toxin type A, injections in your forehead or neck muscles for treatment of chronic
migraine. Generally, they are repeated every three months, and can be costly.
drugs are available to treat pain from migraines. Be cautious of the overuse of
medication to avoid rebound headaches. If pain is consistent, talk to your
doctor about taking preventive medication.