The long list of migraine medications below gives you many treatment choices. Don't let it overwhelm you, think of it as having an arsenal of pain relief within reach. You will learn about the medications approved to target migraines and get more effective relief. If you take the wrong thing... it won't work!
The latest things to hit the market are the GCRP drugs and gepants. Aimovig (CGRP) is FDA approved and should you be able to afford it, it could hold the key to prevent your episodic attacks. You can read about that here - The New Drug For Migraine Aimovig.
Besides the new CGRP meds there are basically three categories that I have broken down so you can easily see what’s FDA approved and recommended specifically for the treatment of migraine headaches.
Here they are:
Over the Counter (OTC), Abortive and Preventative.
Headache tablets are not recommended for migraines as they perform the wrong action. I have clients that say they take Mersyndol for the pain and then take too many when they don't work. There is a risk of overdose.
Let's get clear on what works for migraines then you can discuss these with your doctor to find what will work best for you.
A recent Cochrane review (2015) of evidence based acute migraine treatments showed the top 9 treatments researched to abort attacks. If you were to try each one separately at the onset of a migraine attack, the statistics show over a 90% chance that one of the treatments could reduce your pain levels from moderate/severe to NO pain within 2 hours. (source)
For Moderate/Severe to NO pain within 2 hours: Sumatriptan Injection ranks the highest at 59%. This fell by half using oral delivery at the 100mg dose but patients still experienced a reduction to mild pain effectively within 2 hours. Then comes Zolmitriptan 2.5mg oral, Ibuprofen 200 or 400mg oral, Sumatriptan Nasal Spray, Aspirin 1000mg oral, Diclofenac 50mg oral, Paracetamol 100mg oral, and last is Naproxen 500mg or 825mg oral. Naproxen is not a good drug to treat migraines, it was only slightly more effective than the placebo.
The takeaway: Sumatriptan via injection is found to be one of the most effective (and more expensive) migraine treatments, and then Sumatriptan in oral form and Zolmitriptan in oral form. According to this data, the most effective over the counter medication (NSAID) to use is Ibuprofen. For the fastest action try the soluble formulations that dissolve in water.
Now let's get to the list of migraine medications. You can scroll or jump down to each section:
That’s right – three. Only three OTC products are currently on my list of migraine medications because they are approved by The USFDA to specifically treat migraines. These are:
The ingredients for Excedrin combine: acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine. It is recommended for reducing migraine pain and the accompanying symptoms.
Both Advil and Motrin contain ibuprofen. They are recommended to treat headaches and the associated pain.
This is what drugs.com says about Motrin Migraine Pain: "This medicine may cause life-threatening heart or circulation problems such as heart attack or stroke, especially if you use it long term."
Always discuss the side effects with your doctor before you take anything, or the pharmacist. Remember Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents or NSAIDs carry risks too, even though you can get them over the counter.
I never found any of these OTC combinations by themselves to help reduce my severe migraine pain. Not even a little bit!
It was not until I combined ibuprofen with the triptan Naramig that I found effective relief from the attacks and symptoms.
Please work with your doctor on finding a combination that works for you.
Here is the approved A-Z list of migraine medications called Triptans, with my accompanying results.
My research reveals these are all potent serotonin 5HT1 agonists:
However, it was not long enough acting for my long episodes, so taking four just for one migraine made me nervous. And then waiting to take more in the recommended time ironically resulted in more nausea and vomiting.
Some common side effects of these Triptans - and these are only a few - are: high cholesterol, heart disease, increased susceptibility to strokes, uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes.
I recommend asking your Pharmacist for the full print out that has the other contra indicated medications and side effects for what you have been prescribed.
For example, you can’t take a triptan with another form of triptan, ergotamine, or SSRI’s (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors).
And just FYI - I am very skeptical of the Triptan drugs being sold over the internet. Please use a reputable local pharmacy and be safe.
Ergot Alkaloids relieve migraine or cluster headache symptoms by stimulating the chemical serotonin which is needed to transmit various nerve signals to the brain.
It decreases inflammation and reverses blood vessel dilation surrounding the brain.
Here are just a few to add to the list of migraine medications:
Ergotamine preparations are normally made up by a compounding chemist making them more expensive and potentially hard to get. Ergotamine is the oldest "first line" of treatment. It is also known to have more severe side effects than some of the more recent medications.
Watch out for stomach or chest pain, tingling in your fingers and toes, blurred vision or any weakness experienced in your limbs. Please note - these drugs must not be taken for prolonged periods over weeks or months due to these high risks.
My body severely rejected Cafergot on a number of occasions. The suppository made me vomit almost instantly for hours. So much for that! This was not a good medication for me. I wish you better luck with this one. My doctor takes this for her migraines because of its track record of successes.
Current research shows that this is not an effective treatment for aborting migraine headaches. Because it is ineffective, migraine sufferers end up taking too many and can then suffer from rebound headaches.
I have not added it to my personal use list of migraine medications. If you do use it, use it for mild migraine headaches only.
Always check with your Doctor first before taking anything new. And work with him/her to develop a treatment plan ahead of time to manage your attacks. My Migraine Pain Management Course goes through this step-by-step. Click here to have a look, the whole first module is free.
AND I have a book that will help you work your way through which ones you might prefer, given your circumstances, that you can print out and take to your doctor. Here it is...
The goal of preventative treatment medications is to decrease the regularity and severity of your migraine attacks.
The FDA has approved four drugs for migraine prevention – these are considered the “first line” of treatment medications (what doctors' should try first):
It is essential that you take the adequate dose of the medicine for a sufficient length of time in order to determine its effectiveness for your migraine. If you are experiencing side effects, talk with your doctor to titrate or reduce your dose.
Unfortunately finding what works the best can be trial and error. But with the numerous options in this list of migraine medications, you are off to a great start. If you can... start with testing the family of triptans for acute attacks. Then if they don't work, you can consider these other options.
If none of the four preventatives above work for you, don't give up hope. Here is a list of prevention alternatives:
Amitriptyline (Endep®, Elavil®)
Nortriptyline ( Aventyl®, Pamelor®)
Sodium Valproate (Epilim®)
Calcium channel blockers:
Diltiazem ( Dilacor®)
Minerals to Calm Nerve and Muscle Cells:
Magnesium - It is common for migraine sufferers to have low magnesium blood levels. It took me over two years to get my level up with intravenous magnesium pushes.
If you experience confusion, jerking muscle movements, muscle weakness, or an uneven heart rate tell your doctor asap. You could be low in this vital mineral that calms the muscles and nerves.
Lithium Carbonate - Lithium affects the flow of sodium through nerve and muscle cells in the body to reduce the intensity of excitation and mania.
Some drugs are used in the treatment for headaches but are not specific for migraines.
These include analgesics, narcotics, and barbiturates. Since they can be addictive, they are less desirable than specific headache drugs listed above.
If you are not at risk of addiction, and Codeine or Tylenol#3 or Fioricet work for you on their own, they could be considered as a backup or rescue medication when one of the above medications don’t work.
And we must not forget Botox injections on the list of migraine medications. You can read about that here - Is Botox for Migraines Safer Than Aspirin.
Let this long list of migraine medications motivate you to find what works.
You might like to read these too:
My research for a list of migraine medications uncovered over 100 different ones available on prescription. In most cases, one drug will have a number of different brand names in different countries.
No matter what you read or what you decide to take as your migraine treatment, always consult your doctor first. Ask for migraine medicine that has been through randomized controlled clinical trials, and not just clinical testing. You want something with good evidence behind it. And remember, you can print this list of migraine medications and take it to your next appointment.
Migraine is a serious medical condition and the medications used must not be taken lightly.
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Until next time, be well and be pain free.
List of Migraine Medications References:
1. The National Headache Foundation (NHF 2016) Headache Fact Sheets: Migraine.
2. The USFDA (2016) Patient Information Medication Guide: Treximet™ at: www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm089804.pdf.
3. Evidence Based Migraine Treatments (2016) Available [Online]: http://www.blog.migrainepal.com/blog/evidence-based-migraine-treatments