6 Medicines and Drugs For Treating Migraine Headaches―Which One is Right for You?


Migraine headaches are one of the most common neurological disorders in the United States, affecting about 18% of people at some point during their life.1 According to the American Migraine Foundation, “Migraines are characterized by severe throbbing or pulsing head pain that can last for hours or days.”2 While there is no cure for migraines, there are treatments available that can help ease symptoms and prevent future headaches from occurring. The first step in finding an effective treatment is identifying what type of migraine you have; many people experience more than one type.

OTC pain killers or NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs).

A good first step in treating a migraine headache is to take an over-the-counter painkiller or NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug). However, these medications are not always effective. They may also cause side effects and interact with other medications.

OTC pain killers can cause stomach bleeding, so they should be avoided by people with bleeding disorders or those taking blood thinners like aspirin or warfarin (an anticoagulant). Some OTC pain killers must be taken with food; others should not be taken with alcohol.

In addition to its impact on blood vessels, caffeine directly affects the brain’s chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. These chemicals help regulate mood, appetite and sleep patterns as well as being involved in memory formation and information processing functions critical for learning new tasks.


Triptans. You may have heard of triptans, a class of drugs that treat migraine headaches by blocking serotonin receptors in the brain. These medications can be taken as an oral pill or injection, and they’re often used as an alternative to opioids for pain relief (though there are some downsides to this). They are not safe for everyone, though: some people experience side effects like dizziness, drowsiness and nausea when taking triptans.

How do they work? Triptans function by binding to serotonin receptors in your brain which stops them from doing what they normally do—causing inflammation and pain throughout your body.

Dihydroergotamine (DHE).

Dihydroergotamine (DHE, also known as ergotamine) is a prescription drug used to treat migraine and cluster headaches. It’s an ergot alkaloid that works by constricting blood vessels in the brain, which helps decrease pain caused by blood vessel expansion during a migraine attack. DHE is not recommended for pregnant women or people with high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, and it can cause side effects such as nausea and vomiting if you take too much of it.


Opioids are a group of pain-relieving drugs that act on the central nervous system. They include:

  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Codeine

Other prescription drugs to consider.

Other prescription drugs to consider.

  • Antidepressants. These medications have been found to be effective in treating the pain and discomfort of migraine headaches, as well as other types of headaches. They are not a first choice for migraine prevention because they can take several weeks or months before they produce results, but if you’re not interested in trying any of the other medications listed here and would like another option that doesn’t involve taking pills every day, antidepressants may be worth considering.
  • Anti-seizure medications. These drugs can also help relieve migraine symptoms if they are taken at the first sign of an attack (usually within one hour). The most commonly used anti-seizure medication is topiramate (Topamax), which works by blocking certain chemicals in your brain that cause pain signals from being sent out to your body; however, it does interact with alcohol so you must avoid drinking while taking this medication or else risk serious side effects such as speech problems and abnormal behavior (in rare instances). Other anti-seizure agents include gabapentin (Neurontin), pregabalin (Lyrica), carbamazepine (Tegretol), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), levetiracetam (Keppra) lamotrigine(Lamictal) phenytoin(Dilantin).

Prescription medicines to avoid.

In addition to the medications listed above, there are a number of other drugs that should be avoided by those suffering from migraines. If you have a history of heart problems or stroke, you should avoid medicines that can cause blood pressure or heart rate to rise too high. These include:

  • Amphetamines (Adderall)
  • Beta-blockers (Tenormin)
  • Calcium channel blockers (Lanoxin)
  • Dihydropyridine calcium channel blockers (Cardizem CD and others)

If these medications do not help your migraine headaches and cause side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, weight gain or nausea it might be better to talk with your doctor about other options.

Finding the right medicine for a migraine can take time and experimentation.

Finding the right medicine for a migraine can take time and experimentation.

Migraine is a complex condition, so it’s important to understand your individual experience with it. There are many different types of migraine, varying in frequency and intensity. But regardless of what type you have, finding the right treatment can be a challenge.

Several factors affect how we respond to medicines—including our genes, age and weight; whether or not other substances are interacting with the medication; whether we’re pregnant or breast-feeding; as well as other health conditions like depression or cardiovascular disease. The good news is that there are lots of options available today that can relieve pain if taken at the right time during an attack (when they’re most effective).


We hope that this article has given you a better idea of the types of medicines and drugs that are available for treating migraine headaches. As we’ve discussed, some may work better than others for certain people depending on their needs and preferences. It is important to remember that these medications can have side effects so talk with your doctor about any concerns before starting any new medication regimen.