5 Best OTC Migraine Medication Consider in 2021.

June 24, 2021
6 min read

Migraine is a physical condition in which you may experience recurring, and extremely debilitating headaches. A migraine can cause a pulsing sensation or throbbing pain and is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, and extreme sensitivity to sound and light. Migraine attacks may last for hours or at times even days, and the pain can be so severe that it interferes with your basic daily activities. It affects around 12 percent of people in the United States.


There is no cure for migraine as of yet. However, medications can treat the symptoms as and when they arise, and people can take measures to decrease the severity and frequency of the episodes.

A variety over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications are often used to ease a migraine attack, such as:

1. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)

Ibuprofen is a popular NSAID available over the counter. It is an NSAID, which means it works by reducing pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen is often used in the treatment of mild to moderate migraines as well as tension headaches.

For both Motrin and Advil, the maximum daily dose is six pills (1,200 milligrams), and it should be consumed at an interval of one tablet every four to six hours.

Ibuprofen may cause stomach upset and may also increase the risk of bleeding. Easy bruising, nose bleeds, spitting up blood, slow healing, dark stools, and red or pink urine are signs of bleeding. It is not recommended to use this medication if you have heart or kidney disease or a history of stomach bleeding.

2. Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Acetaminophen are also commonly known as Tylenol, an effective pain killer that works well for migraine treatment. It aids in keeping your brain from releasing certain chemicals that propel you to sense pain.

Most migraine products with acetaminophen (like Excedrin Migraine) may contain 250 mg of acetaminophen in it. Acetaminophen proved to be highly effective for treating pain, functional disability, phonophobia, and photophobia in a population-based sample of people suffering from migraines, excluding the most disabled persons. The drug was well tolerated and had an excellent safety profile.

3. Naproxen (Aleve)

Naproxen, (at a strength of 500 mg per tablet), is commonly prescribed by doctors for acute and chronic pain. But what most people don’t know is that Naproxen is available over the counter as brand-name Aleve, just at a lower dose orally initially. Although Naproxen can reduce the pain of migraine headaches, other NSAIDs may provide better relief.

4. Dihydroergotamine

Dihydroergotamine is generally used to treat cluster migraines. It is not recommended for treating migraines that affect only one side of the brain or to prevent migraines from occurring. Dihydroergotamine is an ergot medication that helps in reducing the throbbing effects of headaches by narrowing widened blood vessels in the head. Inject this medication into a vein, muscle, or under the skin as directed by your doctor. The dosage is based entirely on your medical condition and response to treatment. It is not advised for long-term use on daily basis. This medication works best if consumed at the first signs occurred of the headache. If you delay until the headache has worsened, this medicine might not work as well.

5. Triptans

Triptan is a suitable alternative if, in any case, painkillers or anti-inflammatory painkillers do not work. Triptans are a group of medicines used to ease the symptoms of a migraine attack or cluster headaches. They are also known as 5-HT1 agonists or serotonin receptor agonists.

These medication increases the synthetic rate of serotonin (5-HT) in the brain in migraine patients during attacks. They are administered using tablets (swallowing or dispersible form), injection, and nasal spray preparations. Although you require a prescription for most Triptans, you can buy Sumatriptan over the counter from pharmacies

Causes and triggers

Although causes of migraines haven’t been fully understood, genetics and environmental factors appear to play a role or may arise from changes in the brain that affect the:

  • balance of chemicals
  • blood vessels
  • way nerves communicate

Migraine triggers vary but typically include:

Emotional triggers, such as depression, stress, anxiety, and even excitement.

Genetic features can also play a role, as having a family history of migraines is a common risk factor.

Environmental factors, including, strong smells, flickering screens, secondhand smoke, loud noises, stuffy rooms, temperature changes, and bright lights.

Hormonal changes, during the time of menstruation.

Medications, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), such as sleeping pills, and certain birth control pills.

Dietary factors, including alcohol, caffeine, cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, and foods that contain the additive tyramine.

Some other possible triggers include:

  • tiredness
  • lack of sleep
  • shoulder and neck tension
  • poor posture
  • physical overexertion
  • low blood sugar
  • jet lag
  • irregular mealtimes
  • dehydration

Risk factors

  • Hormonal changes.

Women who suffer from migraines, headaches might begin just before or shortly after menstruation. It might also occur during pregnancy or menopause. Migraines generally improve after menopause.

  • Family history.

You have a good chance of developing migraines if you have a family member with migraines too.

  • Age

Migraines can begin at any possible age, though it typically first occurs during adolescence. They tend to peak during your 30s and gradually become less severe and less frequent in the following decades.

Migraine vs. headache

A migraine episode is distinct from a typical headache.  The causes and symptoms differ as well. Making a note of symptoms can help a person and their doctor identify the condition. So, keep track of the following pointers mentioned below to understand the difference between a migraine and a headache:

  • the time that symptoms start
  • the nature of the headache
  • possible triggers, such as stress or menstruation
  • how long symptoms last
  • any medications used and the effect they had
  • any noticeable indicators of migraine, such as aura


The content on this site is meant only for informational purposes and is not, under any circumstances, supposed to be used as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Do not consume any medication without consulting a healthcare professional first. Each individual has a different medical history and reactions that might not work well with certain medicines and worsen your condition.


NICE (2012). Botulinum toxin type A for the prophylaxis of headaches in adults with chronic migraine. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta260 Accessed on 21/06/2021
Derry S, Moore RA. (2013). Paracetamol (acetaminophen) with or without an anti-emetic for acute migraine headaches in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;2013(4):CD008040. Published 2013 Apr 30. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008040.pub3 Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1002%2F14651858.CD008040.pub3 Accessed on 21/06/2021

Xu, H., Han, W., Wang, J., & Li, M. (2016). Network meta-analysis of migraine disorder treatment by NSAIDs and triptans. The journal of headache and pain17(1), 113. https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-016-0703-0 Accessed on 22/06/2021

Rabbie, R., Derry, S., Moore, R. A., & McQuay, H. J. (2010). Ibuprofen with or without an antiemetic for acute migraine headaches in adults. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (10), CD008039. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD008039.pub2 Accessed on 22/06/2021

Tfelt-Hansen P, De Vries P, Saxena PR. Triptans in migraine: a comparative review of pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and efficacy. Drugs. 2000 Dec;60(6):1259-87. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200060060-00003. PMID: 11152011. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2165/00003495-200060060-00003 Accessed on 22/06/2021

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