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Migraine Prescription Drugs

Overview of prescription migraine medicines

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.

Prescription or over-the-counter, what’s the difference?

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. 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?

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 medication for migraine

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


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 treatment regimen without first checking with your physician. 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.

Written by: Otesa Miles and Emily Downward | Last review date: August 2019
  1. Development and approval process (drugs). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Available at Accessed 5/1/18.
  2. Chawla J. Migraine headache treatment & management. Medscape. Available at Accessed 5/1/18.