What is Abortion Therapy?  Effectiveness, types, side effects & more

Most people experience headaches from time to time. There are a number of types of headache, and most of them are mild or temporary. But some types of headaches – migraines, for example – can interfere with your daily activities.

Abortive therapy is a type of treatment for migraines and other common types of headaches. It’s supposed to stop headaches after they start. Also known as acute migraine therapy, treatment targets symptoms such as headache, nausea, and vomiting.

Read on to learn more about abortive therapy, including its effectiveness, types, costs, and possible side effects.

Most forms of abortion therapy involve taking over-the-counter or prescription drugs when you start noticing symptoms.

How effective it is will depend a lot on the medications you are taking and the severity of your headache. Most mild headaches can be relieved with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as:

What the research says

A 2020 report in Current Pain and Headache Reports found that drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are often effective for mild to moderate migraines. A combination medication that contains one or more pain relievers can also be effective for milder migraines.

For severe pain, triptans can be prescribed as abortive therapy. Triptans are a class of drugs that block certain pain signals in the brain.

Triptans can vary in their effectiveness. A 2014 review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that a dose of 100 milligrams (mg) of sumatriptan, a commonly prescribed triptan, was effective for relieving headaches and related symptoms in about 59 percent of people in the studies reviewed to eliminate.

Other drugs vary in their effectiveness, but can also be helpful in cases where triptans do not work for acute headaches, such as:

  • Ergot alkaloids
  • lasmitidan
  • CGRP antagonists

The American Headache Society’s 2021 Consensus Statement reports that abortive therapies, including those listed above, are more effective when taken within 15 minutes of the onset of the headache and when the pain is mild.

There are many types of aborative therapy for migraines and other headaches. The following are some of the most common.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers

OTC pain relievers are the first choice for treating many types of headache, including:

OTC pain relievers include acetaminophen (Tylenol), as well as the following nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):

  • aspirin
  • celecoxib
  • Diclofenac
  • Ibuprofen
  • Indomethacin
  • Ketoprofen
  • Ketorolak
  • naproxen

Indomethacin is usually the first choice for treating hemicrania continua. Using this medication can help diagnose and prevent the condition.

Combination pain relievers typically contain one or more of the drugs listed above, such as aspirin and paracetamol.


Triptans are used to treat moderate to severe recurring migraines and cluster headaches.

Some common triptans are:

  • Sumatriptan
  • Naratriptan
  • Rizatriptan
  • Zolmitriptan
  • Almotriptan
  • frovatriptan
  • eletriptan

Injectable triptans are widely used to treat cluster headaches because they can help manage the severity of cluster headache symptoms quickly.

Ergot alkaloids

Ergot alkaloids, including dihydroergotamine mesylate (DHE) and ergotamine, are typically prescribed for severe migraines, when triptans are ineffective or cause too many side effects.


Lasmiditan is a recently approved abortive drug for migraines.

As part of a new class of drugs called Ditans, Lasmiditan works like a triptan, but causes fewer side effects in people with cardiovascular risk factors.

CGRP antagonists

Calcitonin Gene Related Peptide Receptor Antagonists (CGRPs) are another newer option in the treatment of abortive migraines.

These drugs, which include Ubrogepant and Rimegepant, work by stopping a protein that is involved in signaling pain.

The cost of abortive therapy can vary depending on the drug, dose, and route of administration. The total cost also depends on how often you have headaches.

OTC pain relievers are fairly affordable at under $ 20 for a bottle of pills and can be obtained by prescription from your doctor at a reduced price. Generic versions are also less expensive than branded versions. However, if you don’t have a prescription for your doctor, you won’t be able to get a reimbursement from your health insurance company.

Most or all of the costs associated with abortion therapy drugs are usually covered by your insurance company. According to Consumer Reports, prescription abortive therapies such as triptans without insurance can range in price from $ 12 to $ 46 per pill.

A doctor can explain exactly how to take your abortion therapy medication.

Some drugs are taken orally, others through a nasal spray or injection. You should take your medication as soon as you experience migraine symptoms – the sooner the better.

For frequent headaches, abortive therapies can be used in combination with preventive therapy. If you find that you are using abortive therapy more than 2 to 3 times a week, see a doctor to discuss preventative treatment.

Discontinued therapy can cause side effects depending on the drug and dose being used.

Some common side effects for any abortion therapy are listed in the table below.

Talk to a doctor if you are concerned about possible side effects of abortive therapy, especially if you have not tried any of these treatments.

Abortive therapy is used to stop headaches like migraines after they start.

Common abortion therapy drugs are OTC pain relievers and triptans. If these options don’t work, ergot alkaloids, lasmiditan, and CGRP antagonists can be prescribed.

Talk to a doctor about your headache symptoms to see if any of these treatments are right for you.