OTC Painkillers- How do they Work, What are the Risks?

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Is it still a migraine if OTC painkillers help? Some, not all, migraine headaches can be relieved with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as Advil and Tylenol. Still, despite assurances of safety by the FDA, even the most trusted of all mass-manufactured migraine relievers- pills like Excedrin Migraine and aspirin- can come with a heavy price tag.

OTC Painkillers- How do they Work, What are the Risks? Migravent

Types of painkillers

First, an introduction to the many different types of OTC painkillers, what they have to offer for migraine sufferers, and what risk factors are involved with long-term usage.

Note: Never begin any new migraine treatment, including OTC painkillers, without talking with your health care provider first.


(Advil, Motrin IB, Nuprin)

Benefits include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), blocks chemicals that trigger pain
  • Effective for migraine headache pain relief
  • Reduces fevers, inflammation, and relieves general body pain

Health risks include:

  • Long-term usage of ibuprofen as an OTC painkiller for migraines can exacerbate gastrointestinal ailments, such as stomach ulcers, painful heartburn, and stomachaches
  • Risk of damage to the stomach increases with alcohol use in conjunction with OTC painkillers such as ibuprofen
  • Increases your risk for heart attack and stroke
  • Unsafe during the last trimester of pregnancy
  • Long-term usage may cause tinnitus
  • May cause hives in people who are allergic
  • Possibly unsafe for people with asthma
  • Possibly impairs your ability to heal from injuries naturally

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(Actron, Orudis KT)

Benefits include:

  • Reduces fever, pain, and inflammation

Health risks include:

  • May cause or aggravate stomach ulcers
  • As with ibuprofen and other OTC painkillers, may exacerbate stomach problems, and may raise your risk for heart attack and stroke
  • Possibly impairs your ability to heal from injuries naturally


(Bayer, Bufferin, Ecotrin, Excedrin Migraine)

Benefits include:

  • NSAID, blocks pain-inducing chemicals
  • Relieves pain, lowers fever, reduces inflammation and swelling
  • Thins the blood
  • Small doses help to prevent strokes and heart disease

Health risks include:

  • Long-term use of aspirin as an OTC painkiller in treating migraines can cause stomach ulcers
  • May aggravate underlying gastrointestinal disorders
  • May cause stomach cramps, heartburn or nausea
  • May lead to build-up of scar tissue in the stomach
  • Not safe for people suffering from liver disease, gout, juvenile arthritis, or asthma
  • May cause tinnitus

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(Paracetamol, Tylenol, Panadol, Tempra, Excedrin Migraine)

Benefits include:

  • Acetaminophen is not a “NSAID” OTC painkiller
  • Relieves some migraine headaches, lowers fever
  • Not likely to cause ulcers
  • Safe for pregnant and nursing women
  • Doesn’t act as a blood thinner

Health risks include:

  • Too-high doses can result in severe damage to the liver
  • Continuous usage as an OTC painkiller, particularly when combined with caffeine (as in Excedrin Migraine) or codeine can cause damage to the kidneys.
  • Because acetaminophen doesn’t reduce swelling, it’s not helpful for treating pain caused by inflammation

Naproxen sodium


Benefits include:

  • Same as other OTC painkillers, reduces pain, lowers fevers, treats painful inflammation
  • May relieve migraine headaches

Health risks include:

  • Unsafe for people with ulcers
  • Aggravates GI disorders
  • Combination with alcohol increases risk for stomach ailments, ulcers
  • Increases risk for heart attack and stroke
  • Possibly impairs your ability to heal from injuries naturally

Your turn!

What OTC painkillers have you always used for migraines?

Are you still satisfied with the efficiency of OTC painkillers to relieve migraine headaches?

Have you considered switching to natural supplements that benefit migraine, from the inside out?

Do you have any questions or suggestions?  Please leave your comments below.

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