Over-the-Counter (OTC) Treatment for Migraine

By Sherry Baker @SherryNewsViews
January 31, 2020
USA ---   --- Image by © Peter Dressel/Blend Images/Corbis

Prescription drugs can relieve migraines, but not everyone can take these medications. Research shows an inexpensive OTC treatment for migraine works for many.

If you’ve never had a migraine, you may assume it’s similar to a common tension headache, only perhaps a bit longer lasting or painful. But migraine is much more. In fact, it’s a potentially serious and debilitating disorder that can seriously disrupt work and personal lives. Prescription drugs can help treat and sometimes prevent migraines, but these medications aren’t always an option for those whose have limited access to medical care or can’t afford expensive co-pays. Some people can’t tolerate the drug side effects, either.

So, the idea a largely overlooked over-the-counter counter (OTC) treatment for migraine works may sound too good to be true.

In a study from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Schmidt College of Medicine and Michigan State University (MSU) College of Human Medicine, however, researchers found evidence plain, inexpensive aspirin — if taken in specific doses — could be an effective treatment for migraine headaches. What’s more, it may prevent migraine episodes from occurring, too.


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Evidence an OTC treatment for migraine works for many

The American Migraine Foundation notes migraine impacts more than 37 million men, women, and children in the U.S. The pain of a migraine headache is frequently described as an intense throbbing in one side of the head which can last up to 72 hours, if untreated. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to sound and light. Obviously, finding treatments that work to both treat and prevent this often miserable condition is important.

Several prescription medications have been approved to treat migraine. Drugs originally developed for epilepsy, depression, and high blood pressure have been shown to be extremely effective in treating and preventing migraine in many people, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Injections of botulinum toxin A, the same substance used in Botox to treat wrinkles, has been shown to help prevent chronic migraine in some patients, too. But none of these treatments helps everyone with the condition, and some migraine sufferers can’t tolerate or afford the prescription drugs.

To search for evidence about what treatments help people with migraine headaches, the FAU and MSU research team analyzed results from 13 randomized trials of migraine treatments in 4,222 patients and in tens of thousands of patients for the prevention of recurrent attacks.

Their findings give credence to what some patients had found on their own: Aspirin, as an over-the-counter migraine treatment, works for many.

The results of the study, published in The American Journal of Medicine, suggest taking high-dose aspirin (from 900 to 1,300 milligrams) when symptoms first develop is an effective and usually safe treatment option for acute migraine headaches.

What’s more, some randomized trials of migraine patients, which tested daily aspirin in doses from 81 to 325 milligrams, found this fairly low dose of the OTC drug may be an effective way for some people to prevent migraine headaches from occurring.

“Our review supports the use of high dose aspirin to treat acute migraine as well as low dose daily aspirin to prevent recurrent attacks,” said FAU researcher and professor of medicine Charles H. Hennekens, MD.

“Moreover, the relatively favorable side effect profile of aspirin and extremely low costs compared with other prescription drug therapies may provide additional clinical options for primary health care providers treating acute as well as recurrent migraine headaches.”

Bottom line: Talk to your doctor about aspirin migraine therapy

Millions of people have taken aspirin, has been touted as something of a wonder drug, safely — helping to prevent heart attacks, stroke and, now, potentially as an effective over-the-counter migraine treatment.

Aspirin, —, is not without side effects, including stomach irritation and internal bleeding in some people, which can be serious and even life threatening. In addition, aspirin may be contraindicated if you are taking other medications that, like aspirin, can thin the blood.

So, if you suffer from migraines, put safety first. Talk to your doctor about whether aspirin therapy is right for you before you self-treat.


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January 31, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell