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Using Beta Blockers to Prevent Headaches

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Updated June 13, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

How They Work:

Beta blockers work by affecting the way nerves work in some parts of the body. Through their effects, beta blockers can reduce the heart's need for blood and oxygen. They can also help to restore an irregular heart rate. It is unclear exactly how beta blockers work to prevent migraines, but one, propranolol, is approved for migraine prophylaxis.

Contraindications to Use:

As with all medications, discuss whether or not beta blockers are safe for you to use with your health care provider. Beta blockers may not be appropriate if you have asthma, chronic lung disease, vascular disease, or heart failure. Certain skin conditions, kidney disease, and depression are other reasons your physician may be hesitant to use beta blockers to control your headaches.

Major Drug Interactions:

Most medications will interact with one or many other medications. This is true of the beta blockers, as well. In particular you need to be careful if you are taking other blood pressure medications, asthma medications, or barbiturates (such as Fioricet). Your health care provider can help you understand whether or not you should be concerned about drug interactions.

Beta Blockers on the Market Today:

Inderal (propranolol) is the main beta blocker used for headache prevention. Other beta blockers sometimes used include:
  • metoprolol
  • acebutolol
  • atenolol
  • bisoprolol
  • nadolol
  • pindolol
  • timolol

Sources:

"Drug Profiles: Beta-adrenergic Blocking Agents, AKA Beta-Blockers." Migraine Awareness Group website. http://www.migraines.org/treatment/probetab.htm. Accessed April 28, 2010.

Ramadan, N., M.D., et al. "Evidence-Based Guidelines for Migraine Headache in the Primary Care Setting: Pharmacological Management for Prevention of Migraine." For the US Headache Consortium. Accessed April 28, 2010.

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