Migraine headache medication - not what you think?

There may be some things you don't know - that you need to know - about migraine headache medication. There's no doubt it may stop the pain in some people, but there are many who shouldn't be taking it at all. Which one are you?

Do I have the "right" symptoms?

The first thing we need to get clear is terminology. Many people think they know what is meant by "migraine headache", but in the world of medicine it actually has a very specific significant.

Number one, it's not just a bad headache. It's possible for person A to have a tension headache that's far more painful than the headache of person B with migraine. Don't get me wrong - migraine headaches are horrible. But the diagnosis is not just about pain levels.

Number two, migraine headache is only one possible symptom of the disease known as migraine. It's possible to have a migraine attack with no headache at all!

So migraine headache medication is often a painkiller - it's designed to target the headache associated with migraine, not the migraine attack itself.

If you have any kind of new or changed headache symptoms, it's important that you see a doctor right away for a professional diagnosis. They will probably ask you about some of the symptoms described here.

When NOT to take migraine headache medication

  1. When you don't have migraine. As described above, you need to have a proper diagnosis even before you take over-the-counter medication. If it's not migraine, something else may work far better.
  2. When your migraine attacks are frequent. If you have a migraine with headache once and you take some painkillers and they work, great. But if it's happening often, you're probably not being very efficient. There are other medications that can more effectively stop the migraine chain reaction. There are other medications that can target migraine even more specifically, without causing more problems in the body.
  3. If you're taking a lot of painkillers. If you find you're taking a lot of painkillers, that can actually make your attacks worse. And worse. And more frequent. This is commonly known as rebound headache - watch out!
  4. When you have other symptoms that the migraine headache medication won't help. Migraine isn't just about headache - commonly migraineurs experience visual problems, nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, and even stomach problems or restlessness (read more about migraine symptoms). Some painkillers claim to deal with some of these issues, but normally you'll need medication more targeted to migraine in general (not just headache) to fight the attack properly.

In summary

Today, more and more medications, and even supplements, are being marketed to treat specific diseases. Starting with migraine headache medication like Excedrin Migraine back in the late 90s, painkillers have been created and sold specifically for migraine headache. If you understand what these are for, and use them properly, they may be beneficial. But if migraine attacks are frequent, you probably need to investigate other migraine medications and treatments.