Acute medicines



Over the years there have been positive developments in acute medication for migraine. These treatments can’t stop you from getting migraine but they can reduce your pain and other symptoms.

Drugs called triptans have been designed especially for migraine attacks. Their main effect is to reduce pain information coming to the brain.


Drugs and new treatments for migraine are changing all the time.  If you are on long term medication you should ensure that your treatment is regularly reviewed by your doctor.

For a small percentage of people with headache, frequent use of drugs particularly ergotamine, triptans, codeine, paracetamol, NSAIDs and caffeine have been implicated in chronic daily headacheand medication-overuse headache.  If you are experiencing four or more migraine attacks per month you should consider the use of preventive treatment to avoid attacks.


  • POM – Prescription only medication.
  • P – Sold by a qualified pharmacist.
  • OTC – over the counter medication.
  • ® – registered trademark.
  • Enteric coated – tablets can be coated with a substance that enables them to pass through the stomach and into the intestine unchanged.
  • IV – intramuscular injection
  • BNF – British National Formulary is the joint publication published by the British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society which is distributed to NHS doctors by the Department of Health.

For more information about a specific medicine, the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website contains up to date, easily accessible information about medicines licensed for use in the UK.

Analgesics (painkillers)


Analgesic drugs relieve pain and reduce stiffness associated with migraine.  The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of certain chemicals in the body.

Analgesics tend to be more effective when taken as soluble, effervescent or liquid formulations because they are absorbed quicker (not all drugs are available in these forms).

Enteric coated preparations are less suitable for treating migraine attacks because they are absorbed more slowly and therefore may take longer to work.

Codeine is an analgesic which blocks pain signals in the spinal cord and brain.

Caffeine is a weak stimulant that is often combined in small amounts with analgesics to enhance their effect.  However, there is evidence that caffeine can provoke headache and may result in headaches following its withdrawal after long term treatment.

Brand names

There are many different preparations of analgesics so the brand names are too numerous to mention.

Several combination preparations are available.  The most commonly used contain aspirin or paracetamol combined with codeine, caffeine and/or an anti-emetic. Combinations specifically licensed for migraine include:

  • Migraleve® – P or POM
    • Pink tablets: codeine, paracetamol and buclizin
    • Yellow tablets: codeine and paracetamol
  • MigraMax® – POM: Aspirin and metroclopramide
  • Paramax® – POM: Paracetamol and metoclopramide

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