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What’s the difference between acute and preventive migraine medications?

Dr. Charisse Litchman

Medically reviewed by Dr. Charisse Litchman, MD, FAHS on August 18, 2020

Acute migraine medications, also called abortive medications, are those that you take when you experience a headache. Some examples are over-the-counter painkillers and prescription anti-inflammatories, prescription triptans (like Imitrex), prescription ditans, and prescription CGRP blockers. 

Preventive migraine medications may be pills you take daily or injections you get periodically to prevent headaches or reduce their frequency. If you experience migraines more often than 4 days per month or your headaches do not respond well to the abortive medications, you will likely be prescribed a preventive medication to reduce or block the onset of headaches. Some examples of preventive migraine medications are blood pressure medication (antihypertensives), seizure medication (anticonvulsants), hormonal birth control, and injectables including Botox and monoclonal antibodies.

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