Doctors often prescribe beta-blockers for migraine prevention. They can be effective but may not be suitable for people with some conditions. They may also cause some side effects.

Beta-blockers are a type of medication that can decrease the activity of the heart. They work by blocking the hormone called adrenaline. Other names for beta-blockers include beta-antagonists, beta-adrenergic blocking agents, and beta-adrenergic antagonists.

Predominantly, a doctor may prescribe beta-blockers for heart conditions. However, they can also help manage other conditions, such as migraine, anxiety, and tremor.

Migraine is a type of headache. People with migraine have severe pain and throbbing on one side of their head. They may also experience nausea, vomiting, and be more sensitive to light. Medications, such as beta-blockers, can help prevent and relieve migraine symptoms.

Read on to learn more about how beta-blockers can help with migraine and if some are more effective than others.

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Beta-blockers are medications that lower stress on a person’s heart by blocking the action of adrenaline. As such, doctors often prescribe them to treat heart conditions and manage cardiovascular symptoms. However, they are also effective for managing other conditions, such as migraine.

A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis suggests that a common beta-blocker, propranolol, is more effective than a placebo in preventing migraine. The evidence notes that propranolol could reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of migraine headaches.

Scientists are still unsure of how exactly beta-blockers treat or prevent migraine. However, beta-blockers work by blocking the stimulating effect of adrenaline on a person’s body. As such, this effect may help treat migraine by:

  • making a person’s nervous system less excitable and less vulnerable to migraine
  • reducing anxiety
  • limiting blood vessel dilation in a person’s brain, reducing brain blood flow
  • maintaining a person’s brain serotonin levels
  • affecting activity in the hypothalamus region of a person’s brain
  • decreasing stress

One of the most common and effective beta-blockers doctors prescribe for migraine is propranolol. Other beta-blockers that may be beneficial for migraine include:

Some beta-blockers that may not be effective for migraine prevention include:

  • acebutolol
  • alprenolol
  • oxprenolol
  • pindolol

The 2019 systematic review noted above suggests that propranolol and metoprolol had similar effects on migraine. However, it also adds that data on other beta-blockers was not as clear.

Common side effects of beta-blockers may include:

Other side effects may include:

  • weight gain
  • symptomatic hypotension — feeling lightheaded when standing or sitting
  • diarrhea
  • a cold feeling in the extremities
  • dry skin, mouth, or eyes
  • bradycardia, or a slower-than-usual heart rate
  • bronchospasm, or tightening of muscles that line the airways in a person’s lungs
  • dyspnea, a sensation of running out of air or not being able to breathe fast or deep enough
  • alopecia, or hair loss
  • disturbances in a person’s sight
  • insomnia
  • sexual dysfunction
  • changes to a person’s metabolism, the way their body changes food and drink into energy

Beta-blockers may not be suitable for everyone. For example, they may be detrimental to people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Beta-blockers may cause people with these conditions to have bronchospasm. This is a condition where the muscles in a person’s airway spasm and contract. They may also be detrimental to people with:

  • peripheral vascular disease, a condition that affects a person’s blood circulation
  • severe bradycardia, or a very slow heart rate
  • heart blocks, where a person’s heart beats differently or more slowly than usual

People can ease migraine symptoms by:

  • drinking lots of fluids, especially if they experience vomiting with their migraine
  • putting an ice pack or cool cloth on their forehead
  • napping or resting in a quiet and darkened room with closed eyes
  • drinking small amounts of caffeine during the early stages of migraine

Other treatments and medications for migraine include:

People should seek professional medical advice before taking any medication for migraine.

Some natural treatments for migraine may include:

Lifestyle changes or methods may help reduce or prevent migraine for some people. These include:

Learn more about home remedies for migraine.

A doctor may prescribe beta-blockers for managing and preventing migraine. These medications can help reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of migraine headaches people have. Several types of beta-blockers are effective in helping with migraine.

Beta-blockers can have side effects and may not be suitable for individuals with some conditions. People should seek professional medical advice before taking any migraine medication.