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What are the Different Types of Migraine Medications?

By Vicki Watson
Updated May 17, 2024
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Those suffering with migraine headaches experience severe head pain, nausea, sensitivity to light and other unpleasant symptoms. Several migraine treatments exist that may offer relief, including over-the-counter (OTC) migraine medications. Prescription options fall into two main categories: preventative drugs, which work to prevent migraine headaches from happening in the first place; and abortive drugs, which fight the symptoms after they manifest.

Preventative migraine medications are taken regularly to reduce the frequency of migraine occurrences. They may also reduce the severity of migraines when they do occur. Among the drugs of choice in this family of migraine medications are those that reduce blood vessel constriction, such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers. Studies show that migraine headaches are associated with blood vessel constriction, making these drugs desirable — and often effective — treatments. Other drugs include antidepressants and those that prevent convulsions.

Abortive migraine medications treat symptoms during a migraine attack. Taken during the onset of a migraine, over-the-counter drugs, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen, offer relief for some individuals. Some of these migraine medications offer additional ingredients, such as caffeine, that have shown promise in further relieving symptoms. Users of these products should be aware that if taken long-term, some of these mediations might cause gastrointestinal issues.

Prescription migraine medications include triptans, which relieve pain, nausea and other migraine symptoms. Triptan users may experience side effects such as dizziness and muscle weakness. Additionally, the drug is not recommended for people who have an elevated risk of stroke or heart attack. Other drugs, such as ergotamine, provide some relief to symptoms and are more cost efficient, but tend not to have the same level of effectiveness as triptans.

Migraine attacks frequently include nausea in addition to the excruciating headache. For this reason, doctors often prescribe anti-nausea medications. Commonly used drugs for this purpose include metoclopramide or prochlorperazine.

Oftentimes, a combination of migraine medications must be used to reach the desired effect. Patients may go through a series of trial and error combinations before finding what works best. These combinations may include prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. Physicians will often begin with drugs that have the least risk of unpleasant side effects.

Patients should follow dosing instructions carefully, as overusing migraine medications may cause non-migraine head pain, known as rebound headaches. Additionally, a female patient should inform her doctor if she is pregnant or breastfeeding, as some migraine medications are not recommended for women in these situations.

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