Using Beta Blockers to Prevent Migraines

What To Expect When Taking a Beta-Blocker to Reduce Your Migraine Attacks

Woman in pain rubbing her forehead
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Beta-blockers, which are normally used to treat high blood pressure, are also sometimes prescribed to prevent migraines. The precise way in which these blood pressure medications reduce migraine attacks is not clear. One 2012 study in the Journal of Headache and Pain suggests that beta-blockers may help prevent migraines by altering the excitability of the visual cortex in the brain. 

Which Beta-Blockers are Used to Prevent Migraines?

According to the 2012 guidelines from the American Headache Society and American Academy of Neurology for the prevention of episodic migraine, Inderal (propanolol), Toprol XL (metoprolol), and Blocadren (timolol) are three beta-blockers that are considered "level A" medications or effective in preventing migraines.

Another beta-blocker, Tenormin (atenolol), is considered a "level B" medication, or probably effective, in preventing migraines. Finally, nebivolol and Visken (pindolol) are considered "level C" medications, or possible effective, in preventing migraines. 

What are the Side Effects of Taking a Beta-Blocker?

Some side effects of taking a beta-blocker include:

The good news is that in scientific studies, these side effects were fairly well tolerated and rarely led to a person stopping the medication. 

Who Cannot Take a Beta-Blocker for Their Migraines

As with all medications, discuss whether or not beta blockers are safe for you to use with your health care provider. Beta blockers may not be appropriate if you have asthma, low blood sugars associated with your diabetes treatment, low blood pressure, Raynaud's phenomenon, or heart block.

Beta-blockers may also worsen a person's depression, so be sure to tell your doctor if you are concerned about your mood, in addition to your migraines.

Do Beta-Blockers Interact with Other Medications?

Most medications will interact with one or many other medications. This is true of the beta blockers, as well.

In particular, you need to be careful if you are taking other blood pressure medications, asthma medications, or barbiturates, such as Fioricet or Fiorinal.

Please note that it's important to tell your doctor all the medications you are taking, including any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, or herbal supplements. Your health care provider can help you understand whether or not you should be concerned about drug interactions.

What Should I Do if my Doctor Prescribes Me a Beta-Blocker for My Migraines?

A beta-blocker can be quite effective in preventing your migraines and is generally a well-tolerated medication. That being said, be sure to follow closely with your neurologist while taking this medication to ensure you are optimizing your migraine health.

Sources:

"Drug Profiles: Beta-adrenergic Blocking Agents, AKA Beta-Blockers." Migraine Awareness Group website. http://www.migraines.org/treatment/probetab.htm. Accessed April 28, 2010.

Gerwig M, Niehaus L, Stude P, Katsarava Z & Diener HC. Beta-blocker migraine prophylaxis affects the excitability of the visual cortex as revealed by transcranial magnetic stimulation. J Headache Pain. 2012 Jan;13(1):83-89.

Loder E, Burch R, Rizzoli P. The 2012 AHS/AAN guidelines for prevention of episodic migraine: a summary and comparison with other recent clinical practice guidelinesHeadache. 2012;52:930-45.

Modi S & Lowder DM. Medications for Migraine Prophylaxis. Am Fam Physician 2006 Jan 1;73(1):72-78.

Ramadan, N., M.D., et al. "Evidence-Based Guidelines for Migraine Headache in the Primary Care Setting: Pharmacological Management for Prevention of Migraine." For the US Headache Consortium. Accessed April 28, 2010.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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