7 Potentially Harmful Remedies for Migraines

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Nearly 12% of the population, including children, suffers from migraine headaches. Because the symptoms vary from person to person, it’s can be difficult to find the right approach for preventing a migraine and stopping it once it’s started. These throbbing headaches can be debilitating and include symptoms ranging from severe pain on one side of the head to nausea to sound and light sensitivity. If you’re a migraine sufferer or know someone who is, explore the pitfalls of popular remedies before you decide on a treatment plan.

1. Caffeine

Caffeine is often recommended as a treatment because it constricts blood vessels and reduces headache pain. But this remedy can be harmful if you’re using caffeine to treat your migraine more than two times a week. The problem occurs when your body gets accustomed to having daily caffeine and goes through caffeine withdrawal when you cut back. Blood vessels become enlarged again and allow more blood flow that can make migraine symptoms worse. Many people get a “weekend headache” when they skip their morning coffee at the office and pay the price with a caffeine withdrawal migraine.


Migraine sufferers often turn to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen for pain relief. The danger with these over-the-counter pain relievers is that these drugs can do damage to your liver, kidneys and stomach when taken in large doses or for an extended period of time. Abdominal pain, ulcers and other organ problems could pop up if you are using this type of pain relief more than 2 to 3 times a week.   

3. Triptans

Triptans are a family of medications that constrict blood vessels and block headache pain. Many people respond well to this treatment for acute migraine attacks, but it can have side effects like nausea, drowsiness, dizziness and muscle weakness. Triptans can be particularly harmful to people who are at risk for heart attacks or strokes. Triptans interact unfavorably with many other medications, so be sure your prescribing doctor knows all the medications and supplements you are taking.

4. Opioids

People who can’t take triptans are often prescribed opioid painkillers that contain narcotics. Common opioids include OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. Though these medications relieve pain quickly when you have a migraine attack, repeated use can lead to dependency and painkiller addiction. For most migraine sufferers, the disorder is a chronic one and opioid treatment is a dangerous long-term solution.

5. Ergotamine

This medicine is usually combined with caffeine in a drug like Migergot or Cafergot and is most effective for people who have migraine headaches that last more than 48 hours. But there is a risk that ergotamine may make migraine-related nausea and vomiting worse, so be cautious if your doctor prescribes it.

6. Medication Overuse

When taking any medication for migraine treatment, there’s a risk of developing medication-overuse headaches. These occur when you take medicine in high doses or use a drug for more than 10 days a month over an extended period of time. Overuse causes the migraine medication to stop working and will actually trigger a headache.  

7. CT Scans

When you get medical care for migraines, your doctor may recommend an imaging procedure to determine the cause of your headaches. If your headaches are regular and seem to have clear migraine symptoms, try to avoid getting a computerized tomography (CT) scan. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a safer option because it doesn’t expose you to radiation and may be just as effective at diagnosing your problem.

Migraine headaches can seriously interfere with your quality of life, so it’s important to figure out your unique migraine triggers and determine a treatment that’s right for your body. The secret to steering clear of potentially harmful treatments is to avoid overuse of medications and consult with your doctor until you find a remedy that’s a good fit for long-term treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 7

  1. Migraine. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/basics/causes/con-20026358?p=1

  2. Migraine Headaches. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Migraine_Headaches

  3. Commonly Used Acute Migraine Treatments. American Headache Society Committee for Headache Education. http://www.achenet.org/resources/migraine_treatments/

  4. Caffeine and Migraine. American Headache Society Committee for Headache Education. http://www.achenet.org/resources/caffeine_and_migraine/

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