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The Food and Drug Administration has approved four drugs for prevention of migraine:
Propanolol and timolol are beta-blocker drugs. Divalproex and topiramate are anti-seizure drugs. Many other drugs are also being used or investigated for preventing migraines.
Beta-blockers are usually prescribed to reduce high blood pressure. Some beta-blockers, however, are also useful in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks and their severity when they occur. Propranolol (Inderal) and timolol (Blocadren) have been approved specifically for prevention of migraine. Metoprolol (Toprol), atenolol (Tenormin), and nadolol (Corgard) are also being studied for migraine prevention.
Side Effects. Side effects may include:
If side effects occur, the patient should call a doctor, but it is extremely important not to stop the drug abruptly. Some evidence suggests that people with migraines who have had a stroke should avoid beta-blockers.
Anti-seizure drugs, also called anti-epileptic drugs or anticonvulsants, affect the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps prevent nerve cells from over-firing. GABA may also have a role in migraines. These drugs are commonly used for treating epilepsy and bipolar disorder. Anti-seizure drugs are more expensive than other drugs. They also have significant side effects. Divalproex sodium (Depakote) and topiramate (Topamax) are the only anti-seizure drugs that are approved for migraine prevention. However, if patients do not respond to either of these drugs, doctors may try other types of anti-seizure medications.
Divalproex Sodium (Depakote). Divalproex sodium (Depakote) was first approved in 1996 for migraine prevention. A once-a-day formulation of divalproex (Depakote ER) was approved in 2000. Doctors sometimes prescribe a similar drug, valproate (Depakene). Pregnant patients should not use these drugs, as they may cause birth defects.
Topiramate (Topamax). In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration approved topiramate for prevention of migraines in adults. Studies from 2006 indicated that the drug works well when used on a long-term basis. Patients in these studies experienced significantly fewer migraines for up to 14 months. Topiramate‚ ' s most common side effect is a tingling sensation in the arms and legs. Weight loss is also a side effect. In clinical trials, patients lost an average of 3.8% of their body weight.
Other Anti-Seizure Drugs Under Investigation. Researchers are studying other types of anti-seizure drugs for migraine prevention. These include levetiracetam (Keppra), gabapentin (Neurontin), pregabalin (Lyrica), zonisamide (Zonegran), and tiagabine (Gabitril).
Side Effects. Anti-seizure medication's side effects vary by drug but may include:
Amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep), a tricyclic antidepressant drug, has been used for many years as a first-line treatment for migraine prevention. It may work best for patients who also have depression or insomnia. Tricyclics can have significant side effects, including disturbances in heart rhythms, and can be fatal in overdose. Although other tricyclic antidepressants may have fewer side effects than amitritpyline, they do not appear to be particularly effective for migraine prevention.
Researchers have investigated newer types of antidepressants, including serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac). However, studies to date do not indicate that SSRIs are helpful for migraine prevention.
Muscle Relaxants. Botulinum toxin A (Botox) injection, a common wrinkle treatment, causes small muscles to relax. It is being studied as a preventive approach for reducing the frequency of migraine attacks and patients‚ ' reliance on pain medications. To date, there is still no proven benefit. More research is needed.
Angiotensin Converting Enzyme Inhibitors. Commonly used for treating high blood pressure, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors block the production of the protein angiotensin, which constricts blood vessels and may be involved in migraine. Studies using the ACE inhibitor lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril) have reported significant reduction in migraine attacks.
Angiotensin-Receptor Blockers. Angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs) are another type of high blood pressure medications. ARBs have actions similar to ACE inhibitors, but may have fewer side effects. In placebo-controlled studies, the ARB candesartan (Atacand) helped reduce migraine frequency.
Neurostimulation Devices. Researchers are investigating a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) device to help stop migraines before they occur. The hair dryer-size device is held to the back of the head and delivers quick magnetic pulses. The device is used when a patient experiences the first signs of a migraine. Other types of nerve stimulation devices are also under investigation.
Nasal Devices. New types of nasal sprays and powders are being researched. Some of them use capsaicin, the chemical found in cayenne peppers, to help relieve pain.
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