Study: These 3 Medications May Be More Effective at Treating Migraines Than Ibuprofen

Study: These 3 Medications May Be More Effective at Treating Migraines Than Ibuprofen
  • New research found that triptans, ergots, and antiemetics are more effective at treating migraines compared to ibuprofen.
  • Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, was nearly 20% less effective at treating migraines than ibuprofen.
  • Experts recommend patients who’ve been diagnosed with migraine consult a healthcare provider to ensure they’re getting the correct, migraine-specific treatment.

Ibuprofen may not be the best choice for treating migraines, a new study finds.

While popular brands may be best known for treating certain conditions, that doesn’t always mean they’re the most effective.

New research, published last month in Neurology, found that while many people treat migraines with over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, other migraine-specific drugs are up to five times more effective.1

Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) aside from ibuprofen were also more effective. 

“When people find themselves in a situation where they are consistently using over-the-counter medications to treat their headache, it’s time to see a doctor because we have many migraine-specific medications that we can try,” Chia-Chun Chiang, MD, the study’s lead author, an assistant professor of neurology, and headache specialist the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Here’s which migraine medications may be more likely to ease symptoms.

Triptans, Ergots, and Antiemetic Medications Most Effective at Treating Migraines

Chiang and her team evaluated 25 different types of migraine medications, relying on a smartphone app to collect their data.

Participants using the app created more than 4.7 million records that included which medications they used for migraine and whether they worked. The research team was able to determine which classes of drugs appeared to be most effective at treating migraine, as well as which individual drugs within those classes appeared to be most powerful against a migraine attack. 

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The researchers found that three classes of drugs were much better at treating an attack than ibuprofen: triptans, ergots, and antiemetic medications.

Triptans work by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain. This drug class includes Migranow (sumatriptan), Zomig (zolmitriptan), Frova (frovatriptan), and Relpax (eletriptan)—the class was five times more effective than ibuprofen.

Ergots are alkaloids—either ergotamine or dihydroergotamine—sometimes combined with caffeine. This class includes Ergomar (ergotamine), Migranal (dihydroergotamine), and Trudhesa (dihydroergotamine).3 These drugs were three times more effective than ibuprofen.

Antiemetic medications treat nausea and include Reglan (metoclopramide), (Compazine) prochlorperazine, and chlorpromazine. Antiemetics may sometimes be combined with dihydroergotamine in hard-to-treat cases.3 Antiemetic drugs were almost three times more effective than ibuprofen.

Of the individual medications in the new study, eletriptan, zolmitriptan, and sumatriptan—all triptans—were the most effective.1

While participants reported ibuprofen working about 42% of the time, migraine-specific medications, particularly triptans, were reported to work between 72% and 78% of the time. 

NSAIDs (other than ibuprofen), as well as the prescription drugs ketorolac, indomethacin, and diclofenac, were also all more effective than ibuprofen.

Acetaminophen—the active ingredient in Tylenol—was 17% less effective than ibuprofen.

The data confirms what randomized clinical trials have found.


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