Preventing Migraines Using Non-Migraine Drugs

These treatment options for chronic migraines are well worth discussing with your doctor.

Preventing Migraines Using Non-Migraine Drugs

By Charlotte Falkner Published at December 27 Views 2,383

It may seem like an obvious solution, but some researchers and doctors are beginning to shift their focus from migraine treatment to migraine prevention for sufferers of chronic migraines.

If you are a migraineur, you know all too well the dread of having a migraine. Sometimes you may be fortunate enough to notice blatant warning signs beforehand (e.g., aura, light sensitivity, dehydration, excessive stress, etc.). However, there will always be times when you are blindsided by a migraine for which you could not have prepared even if you did everything possible to avoid it. This new tactic aims to prevent most migraines from happening in the first place.

Using non-migraine drugs to prevent migraines

Migraine medication has come a long way in the last 30 years. The drugs available today are more effective, faster acting, and result in fewer side effects than ever before. And as time has passed, researchers have found that some other drugs—drugs never originally intended to treat migraines—can help relieve and prevent migraine headaches in some people. If you work closely with your healthcare providers to zero in on some of your migraine causes in the first place, there is a good chance you can find true, additional relief from migraines.

Which non-migraine medicines can I consider?

Tricyclic antidepressants. According to Mayo Clinic, “Certain antidepressants can help reduce the frequency and severity of some types of headaches, including migraines. You don't have to be depressed to benefit from these drugs.” It is important to note that only tricyclic antidepressants have been found to have this effect; SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRI (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are not helpful.

Examples: amitriptyline (Elavil) and nortriptyline (Aventyl, Pamelor).

Why they work: Tricyclic antidepressants may reduce migraines by affecting the level of serotonin and other chemicals in your brain.

Beta blockers. Beta blockers are a class of drug mainly used to lower blood pressure, but Everyday Health explains that they also treat glaucoma, anxiety disorders, and migraines. High blood pressure, in particular, is a well-known cause of migraines.

Examples: propranolol (Inderal) and metoprolol (Toprol).

Why they work: If your migraines are caused by high blood pressure or constricted blood vessels, beta blockers can help prevent migraines by slowing the heartbeat and dilating blood vessels, both of which can mitigate your headache pain.

Calcium channel blockers. If your migraines are caused by over-dilated blood vessels, calcium channel blockers can help. Like beta blockers, calcium channel blockers are primarily used to treat high blood pressure. But unlike beta blockers, calcium channel blockers reduce the narrowing of your blood vessels. This class of drug also operates like tricyclic antidepressants by affecting serotonin production and use.

Examples: dilatizem (Cardizem) and verapamil.

Why they work: According to, calcium channel blockers “appear to block the effect of the chemical serotonin that operates within nerves. Serotonin can tighten blood vessels in the head and also lower a person’s tolerance for pain.”

Anti-seizure medicines. Also called anticonvulsants, these drugs are most commonly used to treat epilepsy and/or bipolar disorders. Over time, doctors began to notice their effectiveness in treating chronic migraines. Although no one knows exactly why these medicines help migraineurs, the FDA has approved their use for people with migraines.

Examples: valproic acid (Depakote) or topiramate (Topamax).

Why they work: A article suggests that anti-seizure medicines may “have an impact on neurotransmitters, which are brain and nervous system chemicals.” Anticonvulsants “may also block electrical signals in nerve and brain cells” to reduce migraine attacks.

Botox injections. No longer exclusively used as a wrinkle remover, Botox—the well-known name-brand form of botulinum toxin—was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010 to treat migraines in people experiencing 15 or more a month. Using a very tiny needle, an authorized doctor (usually a neurologist) injects 31 shots into seven areas of the head and neck at three-month intervals. Many insurance plans are starting to cover this virtually painless treatment. To make sure you are going to an authorized injector, you can look for a list of approved specialists at the drug makers’ websites such as Allergan’s.

Examples: Botox, Dysport, Myobloc, and Xeomin

Why they work: Botox injections simply reduce the symptoms caused by a migraine headache (e.g., nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to lights, sounds, and smells). Botox is also thought to relieve migraines caused or worsened by stress or tension in the head and neck muscles.

You still need to work with a doctor

Most migraine sufferers already take medicine for their headaches, but if you are considering any of these preventive non-migraine medications, it will require some trial and error with time and patience on your part. Some medicines may interfere with your current ones, some medicines work differently on individuals, and all medicines have potential, serious side effects that may preclude use. You and your doctor may also have to spend additional time determining the reasons for your migraines in the first place so that you can try the medicines that are best suited to your needs.

Have you tried any of these preventive medicines? What happened? What advice would you give to fellow migraine sufferers? Please comment below.

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