What are the Different Types of Migraine Headache Drugs?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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Many different types of drugs can be used to help deal with migraine headaches. Triptans are typically considered the most effective type of drug and can be used to interrupt a migraine quickly for most people. Non-prescription drugs, such as acetaminophen and aspirin, are also often used to treat migraines and can be very effective. When these more common treatments do not work, less effective or riskier alternatives, such as ergots and opiates, are sometimes utilized. Lastly, some medications, like antidepressants, have been shown to be effective in preventing migraine headaches from presenting in the first place.

One of the most common types of migraine headache drugs used to deal with headaches that are already occurring are triptans. Essentially, these drugs bind to chemicals in the brain and prevent them from successfully carrying out the actions that result in migraine headache pain. One specific type of triptan is sumatriptan, which is also called Imigran™ or Imitrex™ and is available as a prescription and non-prescription medication depending on the legal jurisdiction. This particular drug commonly presents with side effects such as frequent urination, sweating, and thirstiness. In general, triptans are typically believed to have reasonable side effects and a high chance of successfully treating a migraine headache.


Before triptans became popular, the most common type of prescription migraine headache drugs were ergots, such as dihydroergotamine. Though not considered as effective as triptans, these drugs still see some use combating migraines. These drugs are also less expensive than triptans and can be a viable alternative in some cases.

Some different types of common non-prescription pain medications are often used as migraine headache drugs. For example, acetaminophen, or Tylenol™, as well as ibuprofen and aspirin have been shown to effectively fight the pain of migraine headaches for some people. Some of these medications have been shown to be more effective when used in conjunction with caffeine as well.

A few types of migraine headache drugs are not used as a first option, but are sometimes utilized for varying reasons. For example, opiates and barbituates are sometimes used by themselves or in a combination with other drugs. These types of drugs are usually used only when other options have failed or cannot be used for some reason. This is because these drugs are potentially addictive and may have worse withdrawal symptoms than other options.

Some medications have been shown to eliminate migraine headaches or reduce their frequency of occurrence. For example, some antidepressants at certain dosages have been observed to successfully do this by changing the balance of chemicals in the brain in such a way that migraines are not prone to occur. Medications that are typically used to help deal with cardiovascular issues, such as high blood pressure, have also been shown to help prevent migraines, but why they work is not fully understood.


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Post 2

I think scientists are going to have to come to a greater understanding of what actually causes migraines before they can formulate a drug that really works.

Is a migraine caused by bad brain chemistry, or hormone imbalances, or what? Until these questions are answered, I think good migraine headache drugs are a ways off down the road.

Friends of mine say the best OTC formula is Excedrin for migraines. They say it works about as well as the prescription stuff, and it's much, much cheaper, and they don't have to fight their insurance companies to pay for it.

Post 1

I have a friend who has migraines and she has taken both Topamax and Imitrex, and says Imitrex works better for her. I know it depends on the individual person, their brain chemistry and how they respond to medications in general.

I also know that migraine medications are problematic for the same reason chemotherapy doesn't work very well on brain cancer: the blood-brain barrier. I know researchers have a hard time finding an effective drug that can cross that barrier so the patient can get some actual relief from the migraine. I hope something is discovered one day that really works to prevent or relieve migraines.

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