Having a migraine is not comfortable in any way. When some people get migraines, they are averse to loud noises or bright lights, making it difficult to carry on with day to day activities. When I get a migraine, the only thing that helps me is a silent dark room and medications. Otherwise, the migraine takes about two days to disappear. Beta-blockers are a type of preventative medicine that works to help fight the migraine before it ruins your day.
What are beta-blockers?
Beta-blockers are a common blood pressure medication used to control and treat high blood pressure. They are also prescribed for anxiety and the management of abnormal heart rhythms.
Beta-blockers have been trialed and scientifically proven to be an effective preventative migraine treatment. Migraines affect 6-8% of people and can cause significant disability to people’s everyday lives. When a migraine attack starts, the blood vessels around the brain constrict, deceiving the brain to think it needs more blood than it actually does. This triggers the blood vessels to dilate, causing a rush of blood to the brain. Beta-blockers help this as they work by relaxing your blood vessels, allowing the blood to flow normally.
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There are three common types of beta-blockers:
Beta-blockers need to be prescribed by a doctor and should be taken as outlined by the doctor. They are available in an oral pill form and can be taken at any time of the day. Doctors recommend taking the beta-blockers at the same time every day to allow your body to adjust to the medication. Taking the medication on an empty stomach will allow your body to absorb the medication quicker into the bloodstream and will enable it to work faster.
Sadly, beta-blockers do not offer a quick fix for migraines. It can take about three months before they become effective in preventing medication. So during this time, you might want to continue your regular migraine routine and take your pain relief medication when you feel a migraine coming on.
Who can and who cannot take beta-blockers?
Beta-blockers are the first-line preventative treatments for migraines. Doctors might prescribe you some if you have more than one migraine a week or six migraines a month. However, some people might not be suitable for beta-blocker treatments. These include interactions with other medications or pre-existing medical conditions. In this case, the doctor might try anti-convulsants or anti-depressants instead.
People who cannot take beta-blockers include:
- Taking other blood pressure medications
- Taking certain anti-depressants
- Taking medications to treat diabetes, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema or COPD
- Pregnant or planning to become pregnant or breast-feeding
- People suffering from asthma
It is best to tell your doctor about any conditions or medications you’re on. You should provide them with all the information you need for them to treat you properly.
As with any medication, beta-blockers from with their side effects. They are generally considered safe to use for most people. Common side effects include:
- Insomnia, sleep problems, nightmares and vivid dreams
- Memory issues
- Nausea or diarrhea
- Weight gain
These side effects are uncommon and will not happen in everyone who takes the medication. However, it is good to be alert and keep track of any side effects you might experience. If you experience an allergic reaction, on the other hand, it is important to stop the medication immediately and seek medical attention. An allergic reaction will include dizziness or difficulty breathing.
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- Jackson JL, Kuriyama A, Kuwatsuka Y, Nickoloff S, Storch D, Jackson W, et al. Beta-blockers for the prevention of headache in adults, a systematic review and meta-analysis. Kwok CS (ed.) PLOS ONE. [Online] 2019;14(3): e0212785. Available from: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0212785 [Accessed: 9th July 2020]
- NHS Choices. Prevention - Migraine. [Online] NHS. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/migraine/prevention/
- NHS Choices. Beta blockers. [Online] NHS. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Beta-blockers/