Migraine is a neurological condition that can cause intense headaches. They’re often accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • numbness
  • speech problems
  • sensitivity to light and sound

Migraine can be debilitating and interfere with your daily life. Many treatment options are available, including medications, lifestyle changes, and complementary therapies.

Beta-blockers are one of the preventive medication options for migraine. These types of drugs are typically prescribed to treat heart conditions. But, research has shown that some beta-blockers may prevent migraine.

Beta-blockers are best known as a medical treatment for cardiovascular conditions, such as:

Beta-blockers work by preventing the stress hormone adrenaline (epinephrine) from binding to beta receptors. This slows down your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure.

Side effects of these medications may include fatigue and dizziness, poor circulation, and sexual dysfunction.

There are several types of beta-blockers. Each type works in a slightly different way.

Beta-blockers were first introduced in the late 1960s and proved safe, inexpensive, and effective at treating heart conditions.

They were found to also help with migraine by accident. This happened when people who had been prescribed beta-blockers found that the drugs also alleviated their migraine symptoms.

It isn’t totally clear how beta-blockers help with migraine. They likely prevent migraine attacks and reduce symptoms in one or more of the following ways:

  • Restrict blood flow in the brain. Beta-blockers reduce blood vessel dilation, which is known to contribute to migraine.
  • Reduce nervous system electrical activity. Beta-blockers make the nervous system less excitable. They also suppress waves of electric currents that are thought to be a factor in migraine aura.
  • Maintain brain serotonin levels. Fluctuations in serotonin levels are associated with migraine. Beta-blockers stabilize serotonin levels.
  • Increase activity in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus also plays a role in migraine activity. Beta-blockers may affect activity in this region of the brain.
  • Decrease overall stress. Stress is a common migraine trigger. Beta-blockers may help reduce migraine frequency by reducing anxiety.

Beta-blockers are one of the first lines of treatment in migraine prevention, as they’re generally effective and have relatively mild side effects.

Some beta-blockers are more effective than others at treating migraine.

According to a 2015 literature review, the following beta-blockers are more effective than a placebo in treating migraine symptoms:

Among these, propranolol has been the most widely studied and appears to be the most effective.

Several studies included in the above-mentioned literature review reported that propranolol has the ability to reduce migraine headaches by 50 percent.

The same review reported that the following beta-blockers were no more effective than a placebo in treating these headaches:

A 2019 literature review reported that propranolol reduced the frequency of the participants’ migraine attacks by 1.3 headaches per month. The study participants also reported less severe and shorter headaches.

The most common side effects of beta-blockers include:

Less common side effects of beta-blockers include:

Beta-blockers can interact with other drugs, including:

Because beta-blockers can interact negatively with other drugs, it’s important that you provide your doctor with a complete list of the medications you’re taking.

It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol if you’re taking beta-blockers. Both alcohol and beta-blockers can lower your blood pressure. If you combine the two, your blood pressure could fall to a dangerously low level.

Beta-blockers aren’t right for everyone. Your doctor will conduct a thorough assessment of your medical history — including conditions you have and medication you’re taking — to figure out if beta-blockers are the best treatment for you.

Beta-blockers are generally not recommended for people who have:

In addition, beta-blockers might not be recommended if you’re already taking medication for a heart condition or have an advanced form of congestive heart failure.

If you’re taking beta-blockers, it’s not safe to suddenly stop taking them, even if you are experiencing side effects. Instead, contact your doctor for advice on how to taper off the beta-blockers safely.

There are many types of treatments that may help prevent or reduce migraine symptoms. This includes medications, lifestyle changes, and complementary therapies.

Medication for acute migraine

Many drugs treat acute headache pain associated with migraine. These include:

Medication for chronic migraine

These medications may be prescribed for people who have more than four migraine attacks per month:

Lifestyle changes

Managing stress may help reduce migraine attacks. Some healthy ways to help manage your stress levels include:

Complementary therapies

Some complementary therapies may be useful in treating migraine. These include biofeedback and acupuncture.

Certain supplements have shown some promise in treating migraine. This includes:

However, more research needs to be done to confirm the effectiveness of these supplements.

Beta-blockers may help prevent migraine. These medications are typically prescribed for high blood pressure and heart conditions.

Research has shown that some beta-blockers tend to be more effective than others at preventing migraine. Based on studies that have been done to date, propranolol appears to be the most effective beta-blocker for treating and preventing migraine attacks.

But, like most medications, beta-blockers can have side effects and can interact with other drugs. Talk to your doctor to find out if beta-blockers are right for you.