Some people who suffer from migraine headaches may find relief from a drug that’s probably already in their medicine cabinet. A new study shows that acetaminophen, sold over-the-counter as Tylenol, can effectively treat minor migraine pain and disability in some patients.
“Acetaminophen in the form of Tylenol is such a widely-used over-the-counter pain remedy–it’s what people have around, and it’s what people take when they get a migraine attack,” says the study’s lead author Richard B. Lipton, MD, professor of neurology, epidemiology, and social medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Lipton says the study excluded people with severely disabling migraines and those whose migraine caused vomiting more than 20% of the time, and instead focused on people who have mild migraine headaches.
“What this study shows is in a carefully selected group of migraine sufferers, acetaminophen was more effective than placebo at relieving the pain of migraine,” Lipton explains. An estimated 28 million Americans–some say even more–experience migraines.
People whose migraines are so severe that over-the-counter remedies don’t work or merely dull the pain should know that there are a number of prescription drugs for migraine that may be effective, Lipton says. “If you’re usually disabled by your migraine, you shouldn’t be taking an over-the-counter medication, you should be seeing your doctor and probably taking a prescription drug, but certainly getting medical advice on what your headaches are and what to take.”
One headache expert says the people who will get the most benefit from acetaminophen probably already know it.
“If you have garden-variety infrequent migraine that you wouldn’t think of going to a doctor for, does acetaminophen work? Yes,” says Fred G. Freitag, DO, associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago. But for people with more severe migraine, Freitag says taking an over-the-counter remedy often doesn’t offer full relief and can sometimes make the headache expert’s job of diagnosing and properly treating that person’s migraine more difficult.
Freitag says the Tylenol study leaves some questions unanswered–such as how acetaminophen compares to prescription migraine drugs, and in what way patient expectations could affect the study’s findings–but that for a segment of the migraine-suffering population, it may be an effective remedy.
But for people whose migraine frequently and severely keeps them from living their lives, a prescription migraine medication might be just what the doctor ordered.
“People shouldn’t put up with disabling pain. If they can manage it themselves, that’s great–if they can’t, they should get help,” Lipton says.
Article By: Erin King