Which Medicines Work Best for Migraines?

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March 2018

Which Medicines Work Best for Migraines?

When a migraine strikes, pain relief may be the only thing on your mind. Taking the right medicine may make a difference. Recent research suggests that many people who suffer from migraines may not be taking the best medicine to stop or prevent this type of headache.

Woman with her eyes closed, as though in pain

Which medicines are being used?

In a recent study, researchers looked at the kinds of medicines people use for migraines. They tapped into data from a national healthcare survey. The annual survey compiles information on visits to healthcare providers. They looked specifically at office visits for migraines.

The researchers noted a concerning trend. From 2006 to 2013, about 1 out of 6 people suffering from migraines was treated with opiates. These are medicines like codeine and hydrocodone. In studies, these medicines haven’t been shown to work as well as other treatments for migraines. Plus, they can have troublesome side effects and can be addictive.

The researchers also found that many people seeking care for a migraine may have missed out on adequate pain relief. Nearly 2 out of 5 people weren’t prescribed anything. Of those that were, only about 1 out of 5 were given triptans. These medicines have been found to be most effective for stopping a migraine.

What can you do to ease your migraines?

If you suffer from migraines, talk with your healthcare provider about all of your treatment options. Many medicines are available to treat a migraine. Some you may take to stop the migraine after it starts. These are called abortive treatments. They include triptans and over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Other medicines you may take regularly to prevent a migraine from happening in the first place. These are good if you have debilitating or frequent migraines. They include antidepressants, beta blockers, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines.

You can also help prevent migraines by knowing and controlling your migraine triggers. These can be different for everyone. But some commons ones are:

  • High levels of stress

  • A lack of sleep

  • Certain medicines

  • The foods you eat

Your diet, in particular, can play a big role in triggering a migraine. Not drinking enough water or skipping meals may lead to one. So, too, can eating certain foods. Some of these are:

  • Processed meats, like sausage or hot dogs

  • Aged cheeses

  • Alcohol, especially red wine

  • Caffeine

  • Chocolate

  • Nuts

Try a headache diary

Using a headache diary can help you identify your triggers. Keep track of when you have a migraine—when it starts and stops and how long it lasts. Also jot down:

  • The type of pain and its location

  • Its intensity

  • Any treatment you took and its effect

  • The amount of sleep you had beforehand

  • The foods you ate beforehand

  • Any other possible triggers, such as a stressful event or hormonal changes like menstruation

Learn more about migraine headaches.

Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Raymond Kent, BSN, MSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2018
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