Some headache drugs more effective than painkillers to treat migraine

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Migraines can be debilitating and finding the right treatment can be a challenge.

A recent study, using data from nearly 300,000 people, has compared various migraine medications to help individuals make informed decisions about their treatment.

The research suggests that certain medications like triptans, ergots, and anti-emetics may be significantly more effective in treating migraine attacks compared to ibuprofen.

Understanding Migraines

Migraine attacks are characterized by severe throbbing head pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and often nausea or vomiting.

These symptoms can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and productivity. Finding the right treatment is crucial for migraine sufferers.

Researchers collected data from over 3 million migraine attacks, reported by nearly 300,000 users through a smartphone app, over a six-year period.

This app allowed users to track the frequency of their migraine attacks, triggers, symptoms, and the effectiveness of their medications.

Participants recorded 4.7 million instances of using various medications to treat their migraines. Researchers analyzed this data to determine the effectiveness of each drug compared to ibuprofen.

Key Findings

The study identified 25 different medications across seven drug classes. When compared to ibuprofen, the top three most effective classes of medications were:

  1. Triptans, which were five times more effective.
  2. Ergots, which were three times more effective.
  3. Anti-emetics, which were two and a half times more effective.

Individual Medications

When looking at specific medications, the top three were:

  1. Eletriptan, which was six times more effective than ibuprofen.
  2. Zolmitriptan, which was five and a half times more effective.
  3. Sumatriptan, which was five times more effective.

Participants found eletriptan helpful 78% of the time, zolmitriptan 74% of the time, and sumatriptan 72% of the time. In contrast, ibuprofen was helpful only 42% of the time.

Other Medications

The study also examined other groups of medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) other than ibuprofen were found to be 94% more effective.

Participants found ketorolac helpful 62% of the time, indomethacin 57% of the time, and diclofenac 56% of the time.

However, acetaminophen was only helpful 37% of the time and was found to be 17% less effective than ibuprofen in treating migraines.

A common combination of medications, which includes aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine, was found to be 69% more effective than ibuprofen.


This study provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of various migraine medications. It suggests that triptans, ergots, and anti-emetics may offer significant relief to migraine sufferers.

For individuals whose current treatment is not working, these findings offer hope that there are alternative options available.

It’s essential for migraine sufferers to discuss their options with their healthcare providers to find the most suitable treatment for their condition.

If you care about pain, please read studies about how to manage your back pain, and exercise harder if you want to ward off pain due to ageing.

For more information about pain, please see recent studies about how to live pain-free with arthritis, and results showing common native American plant may help reduce diarrhea and pain.

The research findings can be found in Neurology.

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