10 Rescue Migraine Medications
To Keep You Out Of The ER

Rescue migraine medications to keep you out of the ER


Migraine medications have come a long way in the past twenty years.

These injection medications were never mentioned to me other than in the emergency room. And at the time, it all sounded like Latin to me.

I confess, the word injection instils a sense of fear in me. I hate needles, but I hate migraine pain even more!

If you fail to respond to triptans or ergotamines, one of or a combination of, these ten migraine medications listed below can be used to find relief from an acute episode.

A great alternative to a horrid visit to the emergency department.

They are all subcutaneously administered (under the skin). This means you may require some specialist training, and some courage.

If you get regular severe migraine attacks and are not able to make it to the emergency room in time, these migraine medications should be considered as part of your pain management plan.

Feel free to print out this page and take it to your doctor to discuss your options.

Your 3 Lines of Defence To Stay Out of The ER

In order to keep you from a horribly painful visit to the ER, here is what Dr. Richard B. Lipton of the Montefiore Headache Center says you need to have in place as your 3 lines of defence: (source)

  1. Work with your doctor to find the right abortive medication to break the cycle as early as possible.
  2. Have some non-oral rescue medications. (listed below)
  3. Plan for what to do in the ER. This means having a well specified plan with your doctor's instructions and his or her telephone number (if possible).

Migraine Medications For Self-Injection

Migraine Medications

Some of these drugs have too many side effects to list individually, so I have provided the more common ones.

It is essential to do your homework with your doctor beforehand.

Plan ahead for your 'worst case’ scenario.

According to my research and drugs.com, the most common severe allergic reactions for these 10 migraine medications generally seem to include:

• itchy skin rash or hives

• breathing difficulties

• tight chest or chest pain

• "swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue; unusual hoarseness; wheezing”

• reduced mental capacity with depression and confusion

• decreased coordination and motor function

• muscle weakness

• fainting

• irregular heartbeat

• muscle spasms and numbness in limbs

• agitation and restlessness

• seizures

• constipation

• a noticeable “shuffling walk”

• fatigue

• persistent nausea

• persistent vomiting

• cold or flu like symptoms

• similar “symptoms to liver problems”

• involuntary muscle twitching or twisting

• loss of balance

• unusual bruising or bleeding

• unusual eye movements or inability to move eyes

• unusual or excessive sweating

• unusual tiredness or weakness

• unusually pale skin and

• vision changes (ie. blurred vision).

According to my research, these seem to be the more general yet serious side effects listed for all ten rescue medications. 

This list kind of makes me never want to take migraine medications ever again. If you are one of those people who do not respond well to the acute treatment strategies, and struggle your way through drugs for migraines, then I hope my migraine pain medication failed list will be of some motivation to help you persevere.

I feel we must stay focused and persevere to find the right migraine medications that work for us with the least amount of side effects. Or side effects that we can deal with from the medications that are less debilitating than the migraines alone.

The 10 Rescue Migraine Medications for Injection (A - Z)

10 Rescue Migraine Medications (A-Z)

Chlorpromazine (FDA approved 1950)

Dose: 12.5 mg slow IV push over 20 min (maximum 50 mg).

Aka - marketed in the United States as Thorazine and elsewhere as Largactil.

Class – Phenothiazine - antipsychotic and antihistamine.

Some common side effects – agitation, constipation, dizziness, sedation, hypotension, restlessness causing a continuous need to walk or more commonly referred to as a shuffle. Tremor or twitching (dystonia) are considered to be serious side effects.

Positives – relieves nausea and anxiety.

Dexamethasone

Dose: 6-8 mg IV push.

Aka – brand names - Baycadron, Dexamethasone Intensol, DexPak 10 Day Taperpak, DexPak 13 Day Taperpak, DexPak 6 Day Taperpak, Dexpak Jr. Taperpak, Zema Pak 10-Day, Zema Pak 13-Day, Zema Pak 6-Day, and Decadron (this brand is no longer sold in the US, generic brands may be available).

Class – anti-inflammatory, corticosteroid.

Some common side effects: mood changes, acne, insomnia, headache, dizziness, increased sweating, nausea, vomiting, skin rash, easy bruising, muscle weakness, anxiety and depression.

Severe side effects are: GI bleeding, swelling and increased susceptibility to infections.

Droperidol (1961)

Dose: 2.5 mg slow IV push over 30 min (maximum 7.5 mg)

Aka – brand names - Droleptan, Dridol, Inapsine, Xomolix, Innovar (combination with fentanyl which is a narcotic analgesic).

Class – sedative, anti-nausea, antidopaminergic, antiemetic, and antipsychotic.

This one seems to have the least amount of side effects listed. They include: anxiety, drowsiness, hyperactivity, restlessness, depression (Dysphoria), hypotension, complete sedation, and some other things I can not pronounce.

Dihydroergotamine - DHE45 + prochlorperazine

Dose: Mix DHE45 1 mg plus prochlorperazine 10 mg. Give 1.5 ml slow IV push over 1-3 min.

Aka – brand name - D.H.E. 45 is Migranal and prochlorperazine is also called Compazine (first to combat nausea from DHE 45).

Class – ergotamine and antiemetic.

Some common side effects: abnormal skin sensations, anxiety, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, increased sweating and flushing, nausea and vomiting.

Some of the more severe allergic reactions are: temporary increasing or decreasing of your heart rate, itchy skin, chest pain or tightness, “swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue”, breathing difficulties, muscle pain, numbness or weakness in the your limbs, tingling in the fingers and toes, and itching at the injection site.

Magnesium sulfate (2001)

Dose: 1 gram IV push over 1 min

Aka – brand names – Sulfamag, Epsom Salt.

Class – laxative, anticonvulsant.

NO common side effects have been reported.

There is a small list of the severe allergic reactions to watch for. These include: irregular heartbeat, breathing difficulties, itchy skin rashes or hives, chest tightness, swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue, dizziness, hot flushing, muscle weakness, fatigue, and increased sweating.

Methylprednisolone (2005)

Dose: 250-500 mg IV push

Aka - brand names – Medrol, Depo-Medrol.

Class – anti-inflammatory, man made corticosteroid.

Some common side effects are: acne, dry skin, and bruising, slow wound healing, increased sweating, nausea, sleep problems (insomnia), mood changes, stomach pain, and bloating.

Olanzapine (1996)

Dose: 5-10 mg (immediate release and extended release).

Aka - brand names - Zyprexa, Zyprexa Relprevv, Zyprexa Zydis.

Class – atypical antipsychotic.

Some common side effects: back pain, diarrhea, constipation, sore throat, tiredness, light headedness, headache, nausea, vomiting swelling at the injection site, increased appetite and weight gain.

Prochlorperazine (2001)

Dose: 10 mg slow IV push.

Aka - brand names - Compazine, Compazine Spansule, Compro, Stemetil, Phenotil, Buccastem, Stemzine.

Class – anti-nausea, typical antipsychotic, antiemetic.

Some common side effects are: constipation; dizziness; drowsiness; dry mouth; agitation; nausea; and stuffy nose.

Some severe allergic reactions include: seizures, constipation, irregular heartbeat, itchy skin, difficulty breathing, chest pain or tightness, swelling of the mouth, hands, ankles, feet, face, lips, or tongue, decreased coordination of motor skills, drooling, feeling faint, muscle spasms and muscle weakness, numbness, prolonged or painful erection, trouble urinating, agitation, tremors or twitching movements, involuntary muscle movements. There’s more - unusual bruising or bleeding; and blurred vision or visual disturbances.

Sumatriptan (1992)

Dose: 6 mg hypodermic.

Aka - brand names - Alsuma, Imitrex, and Sumavel DosePro.

Class – Triptan.

Some common side effects are: abnormal skin sensations like burning, tingling or numbness; anxiety; dizziness; drowsiness; or the reverse feeling of heaviness and pressure. Muscle aches or cramps; nausea and vomiting; neck stiffness. You may also experience pain, swelling, bruising, or bleeding at the injection site.

Severe allergic reactions are: increased or decreased heart rate, breathing difficulties, seizures, dizziness, vomiting, skin rash or hives, chest pain or tightness, swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue. You may experience: vision changes, wheezing, bloody diarrhea, confusion, fainting or fever, hallucinations, hearing problems, numbness or tingling of an arm or leg. But wait there’s more: one-sided muscle weakness; pain or pressure in the jaw, neck, or chest; severe or prolonged flushing, stomach pain, trouble swallowing; and very cold or blue fingers or toes.

Valproic Acid (1978)

Dose: 1 gram IV push over 1 min.

Aka – commonly marketed under the brand names - Depakene, Stavzor, Depacon or Depakon.

Class - anti-seizure.

Some common side effects: hair loss, tremors, diarrhea, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness, trouble sleeping, visual problems, weakness, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and indigestion.

More extreme side effects: blood in your urine, skin blistering, double vision, involuntary side to side eye movements.

If You Do End Up In Hospital

If you end up in hospital presenting with status migrainous, they may consider doing an occipital nerve block, in some countries, where “bupivacaine 0.5 percent 4 ml and triamcinolone 40mg (1ml)” is injected into your ipsilateral occipital notch.

This means the top of the neck, behind your head. This injection should provide numbness for four to six hours, after which the pain should also subside.

It might be a good idea to discuss a worst-case scenario with your doctor, so you know in advance what possible rescue migraine medications might be best to use first.

I keep a note in my wallet, just in case I ever need an injection and cannot speak.

There are so many migraine medications to choose from. Your doctor and pharmacist are the best starting point for getting all the necessary details. Gather all the information you can so you can make an informed decision and then be prepared for when you need to act quickly.

Have a look at our migraine headache links page for some reputable websites. And come back and visit as often as you'd like and read the new articles in this section on migraine medications.

In Case of Emergency

Just in case you have any of these serious side effects from migraine medications you have taken, or experience something out of the ordinary, then please call your local poison control center - in US at 1-800-222-1222 or your local emergency number in:

  • Canada #911:
  • China #120;
  • US #911;
  • Europe #112;
  • Australia #000 (mobile #000 or #112)
  • UK #999 or #112
  • Mobile phones are preset to #112, #999, and #911 in most cases.

If you don’t know your local number, please click here for international emergency phone numbers, the information is from Wikipedia. It seems to be updated more often and is more current than the other sites I researched.

Successfully managing your migraines is 50 percent education and 50 percent treatment. The Migraine Brain by Dr. Carolyn Bernstein (p. 19)

More To Read In This Section

Here is the article directory for the migraine medications section:

• CGRP Drugs for Migraines

• Drugs for Migraines: Acute Treatment Strategies

• PEA On Migraine Headache Medication

• In This List of Migraine Medications - Which One Is Best for You?

• Migraine Prevention Medications: aka Prophylactics

• Over the Counter Migraine Medication

• Hail the Almighty Triptan!

• Migraine Prescription Medication Doctor's Treatment Strategy

• New Migraine Medications

• Medications for Migraines - What You Need to Know

• My Failed List of Migraine Pain Medication




Migraine Medications References:

1. Emergency Medicine (2011) Understanding Migraine: Treatment Options. [Online], Available at: http://www.emedmag.com/html/pre/fea/features/091503.asp Accessed June 12, 2016
2. WebMD (2012) Dexamethasone [Online], Available at: http://www.rxlist.com/decadron-drug.htm Accessed June 12, 2016.
3. Drugs.com (2012) Prochlorperazine side effects [Online], Available at: http://www.drugs.com/sfx/prochlorperazine-side-effects.html
4. Drugs.com (2012) Sumatriptan side effects [Online], Available at: http://www.drugs.com/sfx/sumatriptan-side-effects.html Accessed June 12, 2016.
5. FDA Drug Approval (2012) [Online], Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/default.htm Accessed June 12, 2016.


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