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Types of migraine and headache medication

There are many migraine and headache medications, and other treatments, available. The appropriate treatment for a headache often depends on the type of headache you may be experiencing.

Headache pain may need to be managed with medication. Headache medication used to treat headache pain can be grouped into three different categories:

Each type of medication is most effective when used in combination with other medical recommendations such as dietary and lifestyle changes, exercise and relaxation therapy. Another migraine and headache treatment you may want to ask your GP about, if all other migraine treatment is not working, is botulinum toxin (Botox) injections that can be used in certain circumstances.

Tips for taking your migraine and headache medications

You and your doctor are partners in developing, adjusting and following an effective migraine or headache medication plan. Make sure that you understand and share the same treatment goals as your doctor. Talk about what you expect from medications so you can know if your treatment plan is working.

Here are some general tips and guidelines:

  • Before any medication is prescribed, tell your doctor if you have any allergies. Also tell your doctor about all other medications you are taking including over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal products.
  • Know the names of your migraine and headache medications and how they work. Know the generic and brand names, dosages and side effects of your medications. Always keep a list of your medications with you.
  • Know what side effects to expect from your medication. Seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist if you experience unexpected or troubling side effects.
  • Take your medications exactly as prescribed, at the same time(s) every day. Do not stop taking or change your medications unless you first talk with your doctor. Even if you feel good, continue to take your medications. Stopping your medications suddenly can make your condition worse.
  • Have a routine for taking your migraine and headache medications. Get a days-of-the-week pillbox that is marked with the days of the week. Fill the pillbox at the beginning of each week to make it easier for you to remember.
  • Keep a medication calendar and note every time you take a dose. Your prescription label tells you how much to take at each dose, but your doctor may change your dosage periodically, depending on your response to the medication. On your medication calendar you can list any changes in your medication dosages as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Take your time. Double-check the name and dosage of all your medications before taking them.
  • Regularly fill your prescriptions and ask your pharmacist any questions you have about refilling your prescription. Know your pharmacy phone number, medication name and dose so you can easily call to ask any questions. Try to fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy, so the pharmacist can monitor for interactions and provide correct dosing and refills.
  • Do not wait until you are completely out of migraine or headache medication before filling your prescriptions. Call the pharmacy or doctor's surgery at least 48 hours before running out. If you have trouble getting to the pharmacy, have financial concerns or have other problems that make it difficult for you to get your medications, let your doctor know. A social worker may be available to help you.
  • If you forget to take a dose, follow the advice of your doctor who may recommend skipping the missed dose and going back to your regular dosing schedule. Do not take two doses to make up for the dose you missed.
  • Do not stop taking your migraine or headache medication unless your doctor tells you to. If you have concerns about your medication and how it is working, talk to your doctor.
  • Keep medications not in your days-of-the-week pillbox stored in their original containers. Store according to the instructions given with the prescription.
  • Check liquid medications often. If they have changed colour or formed crystals, dispose of them safely and get new ones.
  • Do not take any over-the-counter medications or herbal therapies unless you ask your doctor or pharmacist first.
  • When travelling keep your medications with you so you can take them as scheduled. On longer trips take an extra week's supply of medications and copies of your prescriptions, in case you need to get a refill.
  • The way the body responds to migraine and headache medications may change over time, so your medications may need to be adjusted. Tell your doctor if you notice a difference in how well the treatment plan is working.
  • Keep track of medications you have previously tried that have not been effective, so your doctor doesn’t prescribe them again. It is important to note why you stopped a medication.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 02, 2018

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