Use of Lexapro for Migraines

By J.E. Cornett

The prescription drug Lexapro, also known by the generic name escitalopram, has recently been studied in relation to prevention of migraine headaches. Findings of the study add Lexapro to the list of antidepressant drugs that prevent the incidence of migraine headaches.

Antidepressants and Migraine Treatment

Although Lexapro has recently been studied for migraine prevention, it is not the first antidepressant drug to be used in this way. Amitriptyline has for years been prescribed as a first-line prophylaxis in migraine treatment. It is a tricyclic antidepressant, which affects the three brain chemicals known to be associated with depression: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Until recently, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Lexapro had not been considered useful in migraine treatment. However, a study published in the September-October 2009 issue of "Clinical Neuropharmacology" suggests that the SSRI Lexapro and the SRNI (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) Effexor, also known by the generic name venlafaxine, were also useful in the prevention of migraine.

Why Antidepressants Prevent Migraine

While the exact relationship between antidepressants and migraine prevention is unclear, it is suggested that these drugs work by reducing levels of brain chemicals such as serotonin, which may be responsible for migraines. When taken every day, antidepressants can reduce the occurrence and severity of migraines by controlling the levels of the brain chemicals that may cause migraines.

The Link Between Migraine and Depression

Antidepressant drugs such as amitriptyline and Lexapro improve the symptoms of depression by reducing chemicals in the brain that have been associated with depression. It is believed that these chemicals may also be associated with migraines. Additionally, depression and migraines often co-exist, with headaches being a symptom of depression, and severe headaches such as migraines, which affect the quality of life, often resulting in depression. For this reason, treating migraines and depression together often improves both conditions. However, migraine sufferers who do not also suffer from depression can also find relief from their migraines by taking antidepressants.

Risks and Benefits

While antidepressant medications are used in the treatment of migraines, these drugs are not without risks that must be weighed against the potential benefits when taken to prevent migraines. Moreover, though antidepressants are taken as a preventative measure against migraines, they often do not completely control all migraine symptoms; in these cases they must be used with other medications. Antidepressants, whether tricyclic or SSRI, have side effects that can range from mild to severe. These run the gamut from sexual side effects, dry mouth and nausea to weight gain, high blood pressure and sedation. Some antidepressants are also unsuitable for those who are nursing or pregnant, elderly or under the age of 12. Migraine sufferers should discuss these issues with their health-care providers when deciding on a course of treatment.

© Demand Media 2011