New Aspirin Guidelines
Will a High Dose of Aspirin Relieve Your Migraine?
Aspirin may act as an effective migraine treatment. Find out what researchers have to say about this intriguing option.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Taking three regular-strength, 325-milligram aspirin is a good migraine treatment for many people, according to a recent review of 13 studies involving 4,222 patients.
"Patients who suffer from migraine headache pain have known for a long time that taking a few aspirins, sometimes combined with a little caffeine from a cola or a coffee, is a cheap and effective migraine treatment," says Kinan Hreib, MD, a neurologist and director of stroke services at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass.
The findings come from an extensive review comparing the effectiveness of aspirin to either a placebo or a prescription-strength drug for the relief of migraine headache pain. Researchers were aware that many people with migraine headaches rely on over-the-counter (OTC) medications for their migraine treatment.
The research review also showed:
- Using this high dosage, 52 percent of aspirin users got significant headache pain relief within two hours, compared to 32 percent who were given a placebo.
- Aspirin also reduced other migraine symptoms like nausea and sensitivity to noise and light.
- Combining high-dose aspirin with the anti-nausea drug metoclopramide (Reglan) was better for reducing nausea than aspirin alone.
What isn’t fully understood is why aspirin works on migraine pain as well as on atypical migraine symptoms like visual disturbances. “It may be due to aspirin's ability to regulate the brain chemical serotonin or to the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin," says Dr. Hreib.
Who Should Take Aspirin for Migraine?
Hreib said he would recommend aspirin as a migraine treatment for anyone with mild to moderate migraine symptoms who has attacks about one to three times per month. Hreib cautions that aspirin doesn't work for everyone, and patients with severe or more frequent headache pain may need stronger medication.
A common side effect of aspirin is stomach irritation; others include increased tendency for bleeding and ringing in the ears (tinnitus). These side effects might come into play if large and frequent doses of aspirin are used to treat migraine. Here are some cases in which taking aspirin is not recommended:
- Stomach ulcer disease or gastric bleeding
- Blood clotting problems
- A history of aspirin-induced asthma
- Existing ringing in the ears
- As a children's migraine treatment
Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks?
"For most people, the benefits of aspirin for migraine treatment outweigh the risks," notes Hreib. Patients in these studies took a single dose of aspirin in the range of 900 to 1000 milligrams, which is equal to three adult-strength aspirins, a safe dose for most people. “Aspirin is also easily available and very cheap compared to prescription migraine treatments," he adds.
Hreib also points out that people with migraines should pay attention to migraine triggers, and that prevention is sometimes the best treatment. Common migraine triggers include:
- Getting overly tired
- Missing meals
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Consuming certain food and drink like red wine, aged cheese, chocolate, soy sauce, and processed meats
Hreib says migraine headaches are more common than people realize. “We now know that most 'sinus headaches' are probably migraines. If you have migraine headaches, an OTC medication like aspirin may be adequate treatment," says Hreib. But before deciding on any migraine treatment, talk to your doctor about what treatment is best for you.
Video: Coated Aspirin and Your Heart - Mayo Clinic
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