What's the Migraine Medicine Pharmacists Prefer?

Here are migraine triggers, symptoms and the over-the-counter medications that can bring relief.

An early 40s woman holding her fingers to her temples. Expressing tension or headache.
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Anyone who's suffered a migraine can attest that it's no ordinary headache. Never had one? Imagine this: Take pulsing or throbbing head pain, and tack on possible nausea, vomiting, vision problems and disorientation. These symptoms can last for hours and even days – sometimes leaving sufferers out of commission, home from work and desperately seeking a dark, quiet place.

Research on the exact causes of migraines is still a little hazy, but likely triggers have been identified. For some people, eating certain foods that contain the substance tyramine can trigger one of these horrendous headaches. Tyramine can be found in aged cheeses, soy products, ripe fruit, some processed meats, among other foods. Some people's migraines are triggered by foods with plant compounds called tannins, which can be found in tea, red-skinned apples, pears and other fruits. Caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and foods with MSG are other possible migraine triggers, according to U.S. News blogger Keri Gans, who is a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for Excedrin.

It's not just food and drink that can trigger migraines. Stress, hormonal changes in women, too much or too little sleep, environmental changes, medications and intense physical exertion can lead to migraines, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sensory stimuli, such as bright lights and odd smells, are triggers for some people, too.

Of course, the best way to prevent migraines is to avoid these triggers. Try relaxation exercises. Adopt a healthy sleep schedule. Or if you can't pinpoint your personal triggers, Mayo suggests tracking headaches in a journal to find correlating behaviors.

Unfortunately, even the best prevention plans can go astray. If you begin to feel that pulsing pain, don't battle a brutal headache alone – there are plenty of over-the-counter migraine medicines that may bring relief. But for some, navigating those overstocked drugstore shelves can make a bad headache worse. Let us help.

Pharmacy Times, in partnership with U.S. News, asked hundreds of pharmacists which migraine products they recommend to customers most often. Here's how those pharmacists responded:

Product Name Percent of Pharmacists' Votes
Excedrin Migraine 67%
Advil Migraine 18%
Tylenol 7%
Aleve 6%
Bufferin 1%

The majority of surveyed pharmacists – 67 percent – prefer Excedrin Migraine, which earned the "No. 1 Pharmacist Recommended" designation. Let's put that in perspective. U.S. News displays the pharmacist survey results for 148 product categories – from cough suppressants to snore aids – and in only about one-fifth of these categories did the pharmacists give a product 67 percent of their votes or more. You can read more about the pharmacist survey here.

The information above is only one tool in your box when handling both a migraine and the added headache of deciphering your over-the-counter medicine options. Be sure to always check package labels for ingredients, directions and warnings. And when in doubt, consult with a pharmacist, and get his or her personal recommendation.