How Medications May Worsen Migraines and What Alternative Treatments May Help

Even though no one knows for sure what causes migraine headaches, we know that some medications can make them worse. Luay Shayya, MD, a board-certified neurologist at Neurology Consultants of Arizona, can evaluate your medications to determine which might be contributing to your headaches and recommend other treatments that either help prevent migraines or reduce their severity.

What are migraines?

Migraines are throbbing headaches, usually on one side of the head, that are composed of three parts:

1) a prodrome that can occur up to two or three days before the active phase, during which you may experience visual disturbances called “auras;”

2) the active (pain) phase, that frequently presents with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to sounds, smells, and light and can last for a few hours up to three days; and

3) a postdrome that resembles a post-adrenaline crash and can last for several days.

People who suffer from migraines for 15 days or less per month are said to have episodic migraines; those who suffer more than 15 days each month are said to have chronic migraines.

The Migraine Research Foundation says that more than 39 million people in the U.S. experience migraines. Most report they can’t function when a migraine headache attacks.

Although no one knows what causes a migraine, these conditions appear to provoke an attack:

  • Excitement and shock
  • Hormonal changes 
  • Contraceptive pills
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Depression, anxiety, and stress
  • Jet lag
  • Lack of sleep
  • Low blood sugar
  • Shoulder and neck tension
  • Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine
  • Weather changes

Medications that may worsen migraines

Some medications you’re taking may provoke, prolong, or make your migraines worse.

Rebound medications

When you take pain medications frequently, your pain can return faster and be more debilitating after each dose. These “rebound headaches” can result when you take:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Acetaminophen
  • Naproxen
  • Sleeping pills
  • Codeine pain relievers
  • Triptan migraine drugs
  • Medicines with caffeine

Birth control pills

These are controversial because some women find that hormonal birth control pills, patches, and rings prevent migraines, while others report that they cause headaches. 


Nitroglycerin used to treat chest pain from heart disease can cause headaches immediately after taking the medication or 3-6 hours later. 

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

HRT does a great job relieving hot flashes and other menopause symptoms, but it can cause migraines.

Alternative treatments for migraines

Dr. Shayya offers several specialized treatments to prevent or lessen your migraine pain. 

Toradol® injections

Toradol, the brand name for ketorolac, is an injectable, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug approved by the FDA to treat moderate, short-term pain. It’s used off-label to treat migraines.

Occipital nerve blocks

Inflammation and irritation of the occipital nerves in the base of your skull can contribute to migraine pain. Occipital nerve blocks halt the flow of pain signals, providing temporary migraine relief in as little as 15 minutes.

Botox® injections

Botox, a neurotoxin that paralyzes muscles, can relax the face and neck muscles and prevent the spasms that accompany migraines. It usually lasts for about three months.

If you suffer from migraines, you can get help at Neurology Consultants of Arizona. Call 480-378-0067, or schedule an appointment online.

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