Migraines | Treatment


How are migraines treated?

There are 2 types of medicines for migraine treatments. One type, called “abortive”, focuses on stopping the headache from becoming severe and relieving the headache pain. This type of treatment should be started as soon as you think you're getting a migraine. The other type, called “prophylactic or preventive” includes medicines that are taken every day to reduce how often headaches occur.

Talk to your doctor about which of these two types of medicine is best for you. Some people use both types. Nonprescription and prescription medicines that are used often or in large doses may cause other problems.

What medicines help relieve migraine pain?

For mild to moderate migraines, over-the-counter medicines that may help relieve migraine pain include aspirin; acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol); an acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine combination (one brand name: Excedrin Migraine); ibuprofen (one brand name: Motrin); naproxen (brand name: Aleve); and ketoprofen (brand name: Orudis KT).

People who have more severe migraines may need to try “abortive” prescription medicines. A medicine called ergotamine can be effective alone or combined with other medicines. Dihydroergotamine is related to ergotamine and can be helpful. Other prescription medicines for migraines include sumatriptan, zolmitriptan, naratriptan, rizatriptan, almotriptan, eletriptan and frovatriptan.

If the pain won't go away, stronger pain medicine may be needed, such as a narcotic, or medicines that contain a barbiturate. These medicines can be habit-forming and should be used cautiously.

What else can I do?

To help manage your migraine pain, try the following:

  • Lie down in a dark, quiet room.
  • Put a cold compress or cloth over your forehead or behind your neck.
  • Massage your scalp using a lot of pressure.
  • Put pressure on your temples.


Headaches in Children and Adolescents by DW Lewis, M.D. (American Family Physician February 15, 2002, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020215/625.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 01/96