OTC Drugs and Supplements for Migraine

common view

Migraine is something nearly everyone has experienced nearly once in a lifetime. Despite being due to unknown causes, it can cause severe problems in your daily life. Some individuals are not comfortable with taking prescription pills for a migraine. Nonetheless, there are a variety of over-the-counter options available for managing migraine.

What exactly is Migraine?

Migraine is a neurologic condition which is characterized by moderate to severe headaches. Migraines often present with a variety of symptoms which can include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness

One of the unique symptoms of a migraine is the presence of an aura, an aura is defined as sensitivity to light, sounds, smells, and visuals. 

The cause of migraines has not yet been fully understood however various studies have suggested a vast range of causes which me be the prologue to a migraine. Studies have suggested that there can be a genetic predisposition to get migraine headaches. Various genes may work to regulate neurotransmitters and form neural pathways in such as way that may lead to migraines. Similarly, vascular changes, serotonin imbalance, and various triggers such as alcohol, caffeine, chocolates, etc may also be the cause of migraines. Nonetheless, it is important to note that migraine causes may vary greatly and different individuals may have different reactions to the same stimulus.

OTC Drugs and Supplements for Migraines

There are quite a few over-the-counter pills and supplements available for the management of migraine however, all of them are used for treating the symptoms of migraine rather than preventing them. 


Ibuprofen is one of the most common over-the-counter medications around the globe. It belongs to the group of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs are traditionally used to manage and treat pain, inflammation, and fever. However, in the case of migraines, it has proven to be quite effective. 

NSAIDs work by inhibiting the cycloxeganse (COX) 1, and 2 pathways which are responsible for the release of inflammatory mediators and ultimately causing pain.


Despite being sold as over-the-counter medication, ibuprofen can be toxic when taken in a higher-than-recommended dosage. According to studies, the recommended dose for ibuprofen for migraine attacks is 400 mg to 800 mg. 


Second on the list is naproxen, which is also an NSAID. However, unlike ibuprofen, naproxen has a longer duration of onset, which means it may take a longer time for naproxen to start its action. Furthermore, naproxen is not very effective as a standalone drug, it is more effective in relieving acute migraine headaches when used with another drug as a combination.

Studies have shown that the recommended dosage for naproxen is 500 mg for an acute migraine attack however, this dose can be amped up to 825 mg. 


Just like the other two drugs, aspirin is also an NSAID, which is commonly used for the management of a migraine attack. Aspirin is mainly used for mild to moderate attacks and it is not suitable for severe migraine attacks. Apart from relieving migraine, aspirin is also used for its anti-inflammatory effects so if the migraine is due to some underlying disease, it may also be relieved. 

Furthermore, aspirin also causes vasoconstriction and has blood thinning effects. As discussed above, these effects are helpful in managing symptoms from other diseases so it’s only fair to assume that migraine could be treated due to aspirin. 


Aspirin takes almost 30 minutes to start its action after ingestion, which is quite suitable for acute migraine attacks. Studies have shown that aspirin works better when it is combined with some other medication or drug, for example; caffeine or acetaminophen.

Generally, aspirin is considered a safe drug however, studies have suggested that prolonged use of aspirin can irritate the inner lining of your stomach and may cause ulcers. Furthermore, as we already discussed, aspirin has blood-thinning properties which can lead to bleeding in certain individuals. Moreover, aspirin should not be given to children under 4 years of age as it can cause a medical condition called Reye’s syndrome which can be life-threatening.


Acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, is another medication commonly used for the treatment of migraine attacks, particularly in individuals with mild to moderate symptoms. Acetaminophen works by inhibiting the prostaglandins. 

Acetaminophen can provide effective relief from migraine symptoms, including headache pain, when used as an acute treatment. It can start its action within 30 minutes after consumption which is quite useful during an acute migraine attack. However, its effectiveness may vary among individuals as it may not be sufficient for severe or refractory migraines.

Acetaminophen is generally safe, but it is important to adhere to recommended dosage and frequency guidelines to minimize the risk of adverse effects. The recommended dose of acetaminophen for migraine is 1000mg whereas exceeding the maximum daily dose of acetaminophen can cause liver damage and other serious complications. 


Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the pineal gland in the brain, it is responsible for regulating your sleep cycles. It also plays a role in pain perception and reducing inflammation, which is why, it has been proven helpful in managing migraine attacks.

sleep cycles

Melatonin has the ability to regulate sleep patterns which influence migraine frequency and severity. Studies have shown that a bad sleeping pattern may be a prologue to migraines. Another study compared the effects of melatonin with amitryptiline, which is a prescription medication used for the management of migraine. It concluded that melatonin was better in preventing migraines.

It is generally well-tolerated, however, potential side effects may include daytime drowsiness.

Co-enzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a compound found in every cell of your body, it plays an important role in energy production and also plays a role as an antioxidant. 

Studies have suggested that CoQ10 may be helpful as a treatment option for migraine attacks since it can affect cellular metabolism, and reduce oxidative stress, which of which are responsible for causing migraine.

Research on the efficacy of CoQ10 for migraine prevention has shown promising results. Several clinical trials have shown that CoQ10 can reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine attacks However, these effects can vary among different individuals, and it may not be effective for everyone.

Foods such as liver, whole grains, and oily fish like salmon are the primary food sources for this vitamin. Generally, CoQ10 is well-tolerated however, mild gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea or diarrhea, have been reported.


Some of the OTC drugs and supplements have been proven to be more effective in preventing migraines than prescription meds. Even though over-the-counter medication can be effective and safer than prescription meds, you should still practice caution, it is highly recommended to take any medication within its dosage. If you start facing any usual symptoms while you are taking OTC drugs, you should immediately stop and see your doctor. 

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