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Can Aspirin Help Relieve Your Migraine Pain?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What does the research say?

Most available research suggests that a high dose of aspirin is effective at reducing pain and inflammation associated with migraine.

A 2013 literature review evaluated 13 high-quality studies with a total of 4,222 participants. The researchers reported that a 1,000-milligram (mg) dose of aspirin taken orally had the ability to:

  • provide relief from migraine within 2 hours for 52 percent of aspirin users, compared to 32 percent who took a placebo
  • reduce headache pain from moderate or severe to no pain at all in 1 in 4 people who took this aspirin dose, compared to 1 in 10 who took a placebo
  • reduce nausea more effectively when combined with anti-nausea drug metoclopramide (Reglan) than with just aspirin alone
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The researchers of this literature review also reported that aspirin is as effective as low dose sumatriptan, a common drug for acute migraine, but not as effective as high dose sumatriptan.

In summary, according to clinical research, aspirin appears to be effective at both:

  • alleviating acute migraine pain (high dose, as-needed)
  • reducing migraine frequency (low, daily dose)

Before you start taking aspirin as a preventive measure, keep reading to find out how it works and why many doctors may not recommend it.

How does aspirin work to relieve migraine?

While we don’t know the exact mechanism behind aspirin’s effectiveness in treating migraine, the following properties probably help:

  • Analgesic. Aspirin is effective at relieving mild to moderate pain and inflammation. It works by preventing the production of prostaglandins, hormone- like chemicals that play a role in pain.
  • Anti-inflammatory. Prostaglandins also contribute to inflammation. By blocking prostaglandin production, aspirin also targets inflammation, a factor in migraine attacks.

What to know about dosage

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Your doctor will consider a number of factors to determine what dose of aspirin is safe for you to take. If your doctor deems that aspirin is safe for you, the recommended dosage will depend on the severity, duration, and frequency of your migraine symptoms.

Recent research suggests the following doses for migraine:

  • 900 to 1,300 mg at the onset of a migraine attacks
  • 81 to 325 mg per day for recurring migraine attacks

You should speak with your doctor about the use of aspirin for the prevention of migraine attacks. The American Headache Society recommends that preventive treatments be prescribed on a trial of 2 to 3 months to avoid overuse.

Taking aspirin with food can help reduce the risk of gastrointestinal side effects.

Is aspirin right for you?

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Aspirin isn’t right for everyone. Children under the age of 16 shouldn’t take aspirin. Aspirin can increase a child’s risk of developing Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious illness that causes liver and brain damage.

Aspirin poses additional risks to people who currently have or have previously had:

  • allergies to NSAIDs
  • blood clotting problems
  • gout
  • heavy menstrual periods
  • liver or kidney disease
  • stomach ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding
  • bleeding within the brain or other organ system

Let your doctor know if you’re pregnant. Aspirin may be used in special circumstances during pregnancy such as a clotting disorder. It’s not recommended unless there is an underlying medical condition that warrants it.

Are there side effects?

Like most drugs, aspirin comes with a risk of possible side effects. These can be mild or more serious. How much aspirin you take and how often you take it can increase your risk of side effects.

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It’s important to talk to your doctor about your aspirin dosage to reduce the risk of possible side effects. It’s important not to take aspirin on a daily basis without first talking to your doctor.

Drug interactions

Aspirin can interact with other drugs you’re taking. It’s important not to take aspirin with:

  • other blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin)
  • defibrotide
  • dichlorphenamide
  • live influenza vaccines
  • ketorolac (Toradol)

Make sure to provide your doctor with a complete list of both prescription and non-prescription drugs, herbal supplements, and vitamins you’re taking to avoid possible interactions.

What else can help relieve migraine symptoms?

Aspirin is one of many medications that can help ease migraine.

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Your doctor will consider a variety of factors — such as how quickly your migraine escalates and whether you have other symptoms — when determining which medications are right for you.

Medications commonly prescribed for acute migraine attacks include:

  • other NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
  • triptans, such as sumatriptan, zolmitriptan, or naratriptan
  • ergot alkaloids, such as dihydroergotamine mesylate or ergotamine
  • gepants
  • ditans

If you have an average of four or more migraine attack days per month, your doctor might also prescribe drugs to reduce their frequency.

Some medications commonly prescribed to help prevent migraine include:

  • antidepressants
  • anticonvulsants
  • medications for high blood pressure, such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, or calcium-channel blockers
  • CGRP inhibitors, a new migraine medication that blocks inflammation and pain
  • botulinum toxin (Botox)
Lifestyle and natural options
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Lifestyle factors can also play a role in migraine management. Stress, in particular, is a common migraine trigger. You might be able to ease migraine symptoms by adopting healthy stress management techniques, such as:

    yoga
  • meditation
  • breathing exercises
  • muscle relaxation

Getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly may also help.

Integrative treatments for migraine that some people find helpful include:

  • biofeedback
  • acupuncture
  • herbal supplements

However, more research is needed to determine if these treatments are effective for helping to ease migraine symptoms.

The bottom line

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Triptans, ergotamines, gepants, ditans, and NSAIDS are first-line treatments for acute migraine attacks. All have clinical evidence for their use.

Aspirin is a well-known over-the-counter NSAID that’s often used to treat mild to moderate pain and inflammation.

Research has shown that when taken in high doses, aspirin can be effective at alleviating acute migraine pain. Taken at lower doses on a regular basis, aspirin may help reduce migraine frequency, but the length of time should be discussed with your doctor.

As with most medications, aspirin can have side effects and may not be safe for everyone. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out if aspirin is safe for you as a migraine medication.

Read more on: migraine


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