Taking Tylenol For Your Migraine

Getting a migraine is not only painful, but it can distract you from activities that you need to be doing. It's no wonder that many people turn to medication to help relieve these uncomfortable conditions and help them get on with their day. 

One of the commonly used medications for treating migraine is Tylenol. What exactly is Tylenol? How well does it work for migraines? What else do you need to know? 

In this article, we'll answer those questions for you.

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What is Tylenol?

Like many drugs, Tylenol is simply a name brand. The generic name for this drug is acetaminophen. You may also see it referred to as paracetamol. It's a very common drug, being an active ingredient in hundreds of medications available over the counter as well as several prescription medications.

The drug was first sold under the Tylenol brand in 1955. At the time, it was manufactured by McNeil Laboratories, which marketed the product as an aspirin-free prescription pain reliever for children. 

By 1960, acetaminophen was approved for sale over the counter, and the company launched a full range of products, including adult strength versions. You can now buy Tylenol branded acetaminophen in several strengths and various additional ingredients to treat specific ailments more effectively.

Is it safe to take Tylenol for migraine?

When taken according to the labeling, Tylenol is a safe and effective way to manage your migraine pain. However, it's important to remember that Tylenol now comes in various products. While most of them still have acetaminophen as their primary active ingredient, there may be other active ingredients as well.

For example, Tylenol Sinus and Headache contains acetaminophen for pain relief but adds phenylephrine to help fight off the symptoms of sinus problems. Similarly, Tylenol PM adds diphenhydramine, an antihistamine used as a primary ingredient in sleep aids. 

While these additional drugs in their over-the-counter form are generally safe for consumption, they do change the makeup of the medicine. Some may cause drowsiness, which makes them unsafe to take while operating heavy machinery, or may have contraindications that acetaminophen alone doesn't.

For treating headaches and other general pain, it's best to avoid these specialized products.

How does Tylenol help relieve migraine?

The exact method through which acetaminophen relieves pain remains unknown. However, the drug does inhibit the cyclooxygenase pathways in the body. Although it isn't known how acetaminophen causes this inhibition, it works similarly to another class of over-the-counter painkillers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs.

This reduction is thought to reduce the number of prostaglandins produced in the central nervous system. Prostaglandins are produced by the body in response to stress or injury and cause inflammation, resulting in redness, swelling, pain, and other undesirable effects.

Reducing the prostaglandins in the body helps to alleviate those symptoms.

Dosage

Since its days as a children's product, Tylenol has become available in various strengths to treat various conditions. Anyone who's had a migraine can attest that they are on the higher end of the discomfort spectrum. For that reason, studies conducted on the treatment of migraine with acetaminophen have focused on the higher strength versions.

Tylenol Extra Strength comes in 500 mg tablets with instructions to take two at a time for adults and children over 12 years old. When the efficacy of this 1,000 mg dose was tested¹ on migraine treatment, it was found to be highly effective.

When taking any medication, read the instructions to see how often you can take the recommended dose. Overdose can happen not only from taking too much at one time but too much over a while.

If you have severe migraines, your doctor may approve of you taking more than the recommended dose, but you should not do so without consulting with a medical professional.

Risks

Although over-the-counter medicine is generally safe when taken as directed, that doesn't mean that you don't need to follow the directions. Misuse of acetaminophen can bring serious consequences. The most severe consequences can come from overdosing. Taking too much acetaminophen can damage the liver and can even lead to death. There are other risks to consider as well:

  • If you're on any medications, let your doctor know that you'll be taking acetaminophen. There may be contraindications that require prescription adjustments or the choice of an alternate pain killer.

  • Talk to a doctor before taking acetaminophen if you're pregnant.

  • As mentioned earlier, be mindful of the additional drugs present in the medication you purchase and follow any precautions and contraindications for them.

Potential side effects

A medication being generally safe doesn't mean there can't be side effects. Some people respond differently to medications than others, so while not everyone will experience these side effects, it's important to look out for them and discontinue the use of the product if you experience them. 

  • Skin rash, itching, hives, or other irritations

  • Swelling in the face, throat, or extremities

  • Hoarseness

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Difficulty swallowing

Other alternative treatments/relief for migraine

There are other classes of over-the-counter medication that may help with your migraines. NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen were mentioned earlier. These are also highly effective at treating migraines.

A common option comes in the form of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine combined. There are several over-the-counter options with this combination.

When should I see a doctor?

There are two different thresholds that you should use when determining whether or not to see a doctor: frequency and intensity. 

If you only have a headache once every few months and over-the-counter medicines work to treat it, there's no need to see a doctor. If you have headaches every week, you should see a doctor regardless of whether or not the medication available to you works.

The same goes for if you have infrequent headaches, but they are so powerful that nothing works on them. 

A doctor will be able to determine if your headaches are caused by something more serious and give you stronger medication that will improve your chances of beating the pain.

The lowdown

When you get a migraine, you'll want to do anything to relieve the pain. There are several great over-the-counter options for you to buy that are highly effective at treating migraine pain. Tylenol is a long-standing option that works well and has fewer side effects than other options. This makes it a good first choice. 

If your migraines don't go away with Tylenol and other popular over-the-counter options also fail to solve the problem, talk to a doctor as soon as possible. They'll be able to determine whether there's some underlying cause for your migraines and possibly offer you prescription options that will more effectively alleviate the headache.

Have you considered clinical trials for Migraine?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Migraine, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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Last updated: Sep 2022

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