Migraine Prescription Drugs

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Reviewed March 2022 | Last updated: June 2022

Certain migraine pain medicines require a prescription from a doctor. This means a physician must authorize use of that particular drug, which is then obtained from a licensed pharmacy. Migraine prescription medication is made available for the patient for whom it is prescribed and should not be given to others.

What's the difference between prescription and over-the-counter medications?

Over-the-counter drugs can be purchased by consumers without a doctor’s permission. These medications are also called non-prescription drugs. In some cases, medications first become available as prescriptions. After a period of time the manufacturer may apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have the drug sold directly to individuals without requiring a doctor’s prescription. In other instances medications first come to the market as over-the-counter, or OTC, products. Over-the-counter drugs are considered safe and effective for the public to use without a doctor’s permission.

How are prescription drugs for migraine approved?

The FDA is charged with ensuring that the migraine prescription medication available on the U.S. market are safe for human use and effective for the condition they claim to treat.

What do clinical trials look for?

Companies that manufacture prescription medication for migraine conduct studies for many years. These studies on experimental drugs aim to answer several questions, including the following:

  • What are the drug’s ingredients?
  • Does it work?
  • Is it safe for humans to take?
  • What is the correct dose?
  • What are the side effects, which are also called adverse reactions?
  • Do the drug’s benefits outweigh its risks?
  • Is the drug’s label accurate and appropriate for its intended use?
  • How will the drug be manufactured and packaged?

The FDA approval process

Manufacturers submit a New Drug Application to the FDA that contains the studies along with information that answers the above questions. The FDA assigns a team of scientists, which include physicians, biostatisticians, chemists and pharmacists to review the drug applications. In some cases, the FDA calls in outside experts - its advisory committee - to further review the data before an application is approved or rejected.1

Types of prescription medications for migraine

There are several different types of prescription medications for migraine, which may be used as preventive medications or as acute medications, including:2

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Talking to your doctor about prescription migraine treatment

As always, the best source for advice on treating your migraines is your own migraine specialist. This information on drugs and the medication descriptions are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your health care provider and should let them know of any other prescriptions, OTCs, and herbals you are taking to ensure there are no interactions. Patients should talk to their doctor about what potential side effects to expect with prescription treatment.

Some of the treatments listed here are not approved by the FDA specifically for managing migraines, but may be approved for treating other ailments and have also been shown to relieve migraine symptoms for some in trials, in studies or in practice.

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