What are migraine rescue medications?

Health Professional

Full Question:

Hello. I've seen several references to rescue medications, but I don't know what that means. Could you explain, please? Thanks, Margaret.

Full Answer:

Dear Margaret:

Yes, we'd be glad to explain. Medications for migraine are generally placed into one of three categories:

  1. preventive,
  2. abortive, and
  3. rescue.

Preventive medications are taken daily to reduce both the frequency and severity of migraines. Many different types of medication are used for prevention blood pressure medications, antiseizure medications, antidepressants, Botox injections, and others.

Abortive medications truly work to stop the migrainous process, this stopping the symptoms as well. These are not pain medications, which can only mask the pain for a few hours. These medications are:

  • triptans such as Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, etc.;
  • ergotamines such as Migranal Nasal spray and DHE 45; and
  • medications equivalent to the brand name Midrin, which is now discontinued.

Rescue medications are used when abortive medications fail during a migraine attack or if, for some reason, someone can't take them. Medications that can be used for rescue include NSAIDs, antiemetics, muscle relasants, and others. You can read more about the three categories of migraine medications, including examples of them, in Preventive, Abortive, and Rescue MedicationsWhat's the Difference? You can also read more about rescue medications in Migraine Rescue Treatments - Vital to Our Treatment Regimens.

Thanks for your excellent question,
David Watson, MD, and Teri Robert


About Ask the Clinician:

Dr. David Watson is a UCNS certified migraine and headache specialists and director of the Headache Center at West Virginia University. He and Lead Health Guide Teri Robert, team up to answer your questions about headaches and Migraines. You can read more about _ Dr. Watson_ or more about _** Teri Robert** _.

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