It's easy to lose hope when you're a migraine sufferer searching for a treatment that’ll actually work for you. Especially after you’ve tried a few different medications and haven't found one that makes you feel more in control of your migraine attacks. After all, it only takes one headache to derail your plans for an entire weekend.
We know this can be frustrating, but we also know that beta blockers, an oral pill, might be a good preventive migraine treatment if you've never tried them before.
What are beta blockers and how do they help treat migraine headaches?
Beta blockers are prescription drugs commonly prescribed to control blood pressure and/or treat high blood pressure. They can also be taken to manage abnormal heart rhythms and protect the heart from a second heart attack.
What’s likely more important for you is that that they’re proven to be an effective preventive migraine treatment. To understand why that is, we need to quickly talk about what researchers believe causes migraine: For unknown reasons, at the start of a migraine attack, your brain's blood vessels constrict and make your brain think that it needs a lot more blood than it really does. The blood vessels respond by dilating, resulting in a rush of blood to the brain. Beta blockers alleviate that pain by telling your blood vessels to relax so that the blood can flow normally.
The three most common beta blockers used for migraine prevention are:
- propranolol (generic Inderal® and Inderal LA® )
- metoprolol (generic Toprol XL®)
- timolol (generic Blocadren®)
How do you take beta blockers?
You should take your beta blockers as prescribed. You can take them at any time of day, as long as you're consistent each day. Ideally, they should be taken on an empty stomach because that’ll help your body absorb the medication faster.
Doctors do suggest taking them during the daytime because your heart rate drops naturally at night and it’s best to take beta blockers when your heart rate is up.
How long do beta blockers take to work for migraine?
It can take around three months to determine effectiveness. That can feel like a very long time in which you have little control, which is why we suggest looking into both prescription pain relief medication and research-backed home remedies.
Who should take beta blockers?
If you’re having more than one migraine attack per week or six attacks a month, preventive medication can be helpful in reducing migraine frequency. This can be paired with acute treatments, like a triptan.
Beta blockers are typically the first preventive treatment that doctors recommend. However, there are reasons (such as interactions with other medications you're currently taking) that might cause a doctor to recommend an anticonvulsant or antidepressant instead.
Who shouldn't take beta blockers?
While beta blockers are generally considered safe and effective, there are people who should consider other migraine treatments.
- people who are taking other blood pressure medication
- people who are taking certain antidepressants
- people who are taking medicine to treat diabetes, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or COPD
- people who pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breast-feeding
- people with a history of a heart condition
- people with asthma
That said, everyone's different and you should speak to your doctor about your specific needs or concerns. (We know, you want all the answers now, but we're committed to providing you with the best care, and in this case, that means not making any claims we can't stand by.)
What are possible side effects of taking beta blockers?
While beta blockers are generally considered safe, like many medications, there are potential side effects, and you should always consult your doctor before stopping treatment.
Some of the common side effects include:
- insomnia, sleep problems, nightmares, and vivid dreams
- memory problems
- nausea or diarrhea
- reduced ability to exercise
- weight gain
You should immediately contact your doctor if you experience signs of serious allergic reaction, dizziness, or difficulty breathing while taking these medications.
What beta blockers does Cove offer?
Which beta blocker is best for migraine?
Wondering how to choose between propranolol and metoprolol? Even though they’re both beta blockers, they work a little differently. For example, propranolol impacts more receptors in your brain.
That’s not to say that it works better than metoprolol though—they’re equally effective and they have similar side effects. But, like many other migraine medications, that doesn’t mean both will affect you in the same way (we know—we also wish there was a more clear-cut answer for you).
The bottom line is the best beta blocker is the one that works best for you.
We know this is a lot of information and you may still have questions. That’s why we work with licensed physicians to help each and every person find a treatment plan that works for them. If you’d like to speak to a Cove physician about your headaches, simply click here.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Propranolol and metoprolol are used to treat high blood pressure and prevent migraine headaches. Do not stop taking these drugs all of a sudden. If you do, chest pain that is worse and in some cases heart attack may occur. The risk may be greater if you have certain types of heart disease. To avoid side effects, you will want to slowly stop this drug as ordered by your doctor. Call your doctor right away if you have new or worse chest pain or if other heart problems occur. You can read more about propranolol side effects, warnings, and precautions here. Full prescribing information for propranolol is available here. You can read more about metaprolol side effects, warnings, and precautions here. Full prescribing information for metoprolol is available here. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit MedWatch: https://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/default.htm or call 1-800-FDA-1088.