Migraine? Reach for Prescription Meds, Not Ibuprofen

By   |  November 30, 2023

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2023 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Nov. 30, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Migraine sufferers would do better to talk to their doctor about a prescription drug than reaching for a bottle of ibuprofen, a new study finds.

Drugs like triptans, ergots and anti-emetics can be two to five times more effective for treating migraines than ibuprofen, according to a report published Nov. 30 in the journal Neurology.

“These results confirm that triptans should be considered earlier for treating migraine, rather than reserving their use for severe attacks,” said researcher Dr. Chia-Chun Chiang, a neurologist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

People in the throes of a migraine experience intense throbbing head pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea or vomiting, and even thinking issues.

There are many treatments available, but not much head-to-head data comparing their effectiveness, Chiang said.

For this study, Chiang and her colleagues tracked more than 3 million migraines self-reported by nearly 300,000 people using a smartphone app. The app allows users to monitor the frequency of their migraines, the triggers that caused them, the symptoms they had and the effectiveness of the medication they took.

Participants reported trying different medications for their migraines a total of 4.7 million times, and noted whether each helped or not. 

Researchers used that information to calculate the relative effectiveness of each drug, evaluating a total 25 meds across seven drug classes.

The top three classes of medications more effective than ibuprofen were:

  • Triptans, which were five times better.

  • Ergots, which were three times better.

  • Anti-emetics, which were two and a half times better.

Meanwhile, the top three individual migraine medications were all triptans:

  • Eletriptan was six times more effective than ibuprofen, with participants finding it helpful 78% of the time.

  • Zolmitriptan was five and a half times more effective, helpful 74% of the time.

  • Sumatriptan was five times more effective, helpful 72% of the time.

By comparison, ibuprofen was helpful just 42% of the time.

Acetaminophen did even worse – it was helpful only 37% of the time, and was 17% less effective than ibuprofen.

A common combination used to fight migraines – aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine – was 69% more effective than ibuprofen alone, the researchers noted.

“For people whose acute migraine medication is not working for them, our hope is that this study shows that there are many alternatives that work for migraine, and we encourage people to talk with their doctors about how to treat this painful and debilitating condition,” Chiang said in a journal news release.

More information

The Mayo Clinic has more about migraines.

SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, Nov. 29, 2023