About 37 million Americans experience blinding migraine headaches, according to the National Headache Foundation. If you're one of them, you're well aware of the toll that migraine symptoms, including throbbing head pain, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, can take on your quality of life.
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While many prescription medications can help prevent migraines or treat one that has already started, over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, such as Excedrin Migraine, may also play an important role.
"Excedrin Migraine contains acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine, which work synergistically to extinguish headache pain," explains Brian M. Grosberg, MD, director of the Headache Center at Hartford HealthCare's Ayer Neuroscience Institute in West Hartford, Conn. "Aspirin and acetaminophen both have pain-relieving properties, and caffeine is added to help them work more efficiently."
Specifically, Excedrin Migraine contains 250 milligrams of acetaminophen, 250 milligrams of aspirin and 65 milligrams of caffeine. That's the same formula used in Excedrin Extra Strength. By contrast, Excedrin Tension Headache contains 500 milligrams of acetaminophen and 65 milligrams of caffeine, but no aspirin.
Here's a breakdown of what the individual ingredients bring to the table:
Acetaminophen is a pain and fever reducer. As such, it changes the way you perceive pain and also helps to cool down your body. There are few side effects associated with acetaminophen, but it can cause liver damage when taken in high amounts.
If you take Excedrin Migraine, make sure that no other OTC or prescription medications you're taking contain acetaminophen. This can be challenging because many allergy, cold, flu and sleep remedies do have it as an ingredient. Stay in the safe zone by making sure you take no more than a total of 4,000 milligram of acetaminophen each day, says the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Aspirin works by blocking chemical pain signals. It's available by prescription as well as in OTC products like Excedrin. Possible side effects of aspirin include excessive bleeding and kidney damage, Dr. Grosberg says. Aspirin is also a powerful blood thinner because it inhibits platelets in your blood. (Platelets help your body form blood clots and stop bleeding.) This is why daily low-dose aspirin is often suggested to stave off the clots that can cause a heart attack.
When taken in high doses, aspirin can reduce kidney function, the National Kidney Foundation states. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take aspirin before you use Excedrin Migraine.
Aspirin and products that contain aspirin, such as Excedrin, should not be given to children or teens because they may increase risk for Reye syndrome, a condition that causes pressure within the brain and dangerous accumulations of fat in the liver and other organs. Reye syndrome usually occurs with a virus such as the flu, warns the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Aspirin can also cause irritation and injury to the stomach lining, which may lead to intestinal bleeding.
Caffeine helps acetaminophen and aspirin work more effectively. "Caffeine can also relax blood vessels in the brain to improve blood flow during a migraine headache," Dr. Grosberg explains.
It's possible to overdo it on caffeine, which can spark nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness or heart palpitations. Keep this in mind when taking Excedrin Migraine, especially if you'll be consuming coffee, soda or any caffeine-containing foods, like chocolate. And be aware that, for some people, caffeine can actually trigger migraine, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
All medications have inactive ingredients to preserve active ingredients, improve taste and extend shelf life, among other functions. In Excedrin Migraine, those include benzoic acid, carnauba wax, FD&C blue #1, hydroxypropyl cellulose, hypromellose, light mineral oil, microcrystalline cellulose, polysorbate 20, povidone, propylene glycol, simethicone emulsion, sorbitan monolaurate, stearic acid and titanium dioxide, according to the U.S. Nattional Library of Medicine website, DailyMed.
Talk to your doctor before taking Excedrin Migraine if you are allergic to any of these ingredients. FD&C blue No. 1 (a bright blue) has been linked to chronic itching in at least one study, published in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of Drugs & Dermatology. If you're sensitive to gluten or have other specific dietary concerns and needs, ask your pharmacist for advice, Dr. Grosberg suggests.
- National Headache Foundation: “Migraine”
- Excedrin.com: “Excedrin Migraine”
- Excedrin.com: “Extra Strength”
- U.S Food & Drug Administration: “Acetaminophen: Avoiding Liver Injury”
- National Kidney Foundation: “Analgesics”
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Reyes Syndrome”
- Journal of Drugs & Dermatology: “Medication Dyes as a Source of Drug Allergy”
- DailyMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Label: Excedrin Migraine (Acetaminophen, Aspirin-NSAID and Caffeine Tablet, Film Coated)”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Acetaminophen"
- American Migraine Foundation: "Proper Medication Use to Avoid Rebound Headache - Facebook Live Reacp" Rebound
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.