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Question:

Which OTC medications can I use for migraines?

Expert:   Lawrence C. Newman, MD, Director, The Headache Institute, Roosevelt Hospital Center »

Over-the-counter medicine might be all you need to beat your migraine headache. Is it the same stuff you take for your bad back? Watch this to find out!

Transcript: A prescription-strength medication isn’t ALWAYS necessary to relieve a migraine headache. Over-the-counter drugs get the job done when the pain is mild to moderate. But, before I go into detail, a warning: IF you’re taking any over-the-counter pain relievers more than 2 days a week, it’s time to ask your doctor for advice on more effective treatments or preventative medications. That’s because taking these medications too OFTEN leads to a medication overuse headache. Taking the same pain relievers to relieve this SUBSEQUENT headache will only INCREASE its recurrence. But when used correctly, over-the-counter painkillers are often effective. These “analgesics”, as pain relievers are called, are often nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—or NSAIDs—such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen sodium. You’ll know these by their brand names—Advil, Motrin, Bayer, Aleve are popular. These medications are the SAME ones you’d take for the pain of a twisted ankle or an achy back. Acetaminophen is ALSO an analgesic, although it’s NOT a NSAID. It eases pain but does nothing to reduce inflammation, which is a major source of migraine discomfort. The most common brand of acetaminophen is Tylenol. It’s especially useful for PREGNANT women who get migraine headaches, since NSAIDs can be harmful to a fetus. There are also over-the-counter medications that the FDA has approved SPECIFICALLY for use against migraine headache pain: Advil Migraine is an ibuprofen formulation, while Excedrin Migraine is a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine. The severity and frequency of your migraine attacks will dictate whether you can stick with over-the-counter medications or if you need to use prescription medications that are designed either to provide more aggressive therapy DURING a migraine or PREVENT one from starting. Ask your doctor for advice. More »

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