Is There Actually a Difference Between Excedrin Migraine and Excedrin Extra Strength?

Whether you're dealing with occasional headaches or frequent migraines, finding the right medication can make all the difference in managing your pain. When a headache strikes, the last thing you want to do is spend time in the drug store contemplating which over-the-counter (OTC) concoction will do the trick.

Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol, Tylenol Extra Strength) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) are often the go-to medications for mild to moderate headaches.

When it comes to more severe migraines, however, many people turn to specialized OTC medications such as Excedrin Migraine and Excedrin Extra Strength. While both options are designed to alleviate pain, understanding their differences can help you choose the right one for your needs.

POPSUGAR consulted the experts to see how Excedrin Migraine and Excedrin Extra Strength compare.

What Is Excedrin Migraine?

Excedrin Migraine is an FDA-approved OTC medication used to relieve mild to moderate pain associated with migraine headaches. It contains three active ingredients: acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine. These ingredients work together to target the various symptoms of migraines, including pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Excedrin Migraine is available as a caplet meant to be taken orally. Each caplet contains 250 mg acetaminophen, 250 mg aspirin, and 65 mg caffeine.

What Is Excedrin Extra Strength?

Excedrin Extra Strength is another FDA-approved OTC medication designed to treat a variety of minor aches and pains caused by headaches, arthritis, toothaches, menstrual cramps, muscle aches, or the common cold. Its active ingredients include acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine, just like Excedrin Migraine.

Excedrin Extra Strength is also available as a caplet to be taken orally. Each caplet contains 250 mg acetaminophen, 250 mg aspirin, and 65 mg caffeine.

Excedrin Migraine vs. Extra Strength

So, what's the difference between the two? According to Nicholas Tzikas, MD, a family medicine doctor and neurologist at Yale Medicine, Excedrin Migraine is marketed (and FDA approved) explicitly for migraines, while Excedrin Extra Strength is considered more of a general pain reliever.

One important aspect highlighted by Dr. Tzikas is the cautionary note on the Excedrin Migraine label regarding Medication Overuse Headaches (MOH), also known as "rebound headaches."

MOH occurs when a person relies on headache medication too frequently, leading to a cycle of headaches. To reduce the risk of MOH, the Excedrin Migraine label advises against using the medication for migraines more than 10 days per month.

Dr. Tzikas also notes the risk of MOH with Excedrin Extra Strength. For example, "If a migraineur is treating their chronic back pain with Excedrin Extra Strength for more than 10 days per month over several months, they will likely develop MOH despite not using the medication for their headaches, as the brain does not tell the indication apart," Dr. Tzikas told POPSUGAR. "I caution my patients that they should not regularly take an acute medication on more than two days per week/10 days per month."

According to the labeling, the recommended dosage for Excedrin Migraine and Excedrin Extra Strength is as follows:

  • Excedrin Migraine: Adults take two caplets with a glass of water. Do not take more than two caplets in 24 hours unless directed by a doctor. Consumers under 18 should not take Excedrin Migraine unless directed by a doctor.
  • Excedrin Extra Strength: Adults and children 12 years and over take two caplets every six hours, not more than eight in 24 hours. Consumers under 12 years should not take Excedrin Extra Strength unless directed by a doctor.

Excedrin Side Effects

Like any medication, Excedrin Migraine and Excedrin Extra Strength may cause side effects.

Common side effects associated with Excedrin include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues (e.g., upset stomach, heartburn)
  • Rebound headaches when used too frequently
  • Irritability, jitteriness, or difficulty sleeping

In rare cases, Excedrin may cause more serious side effects such as liver damage, allergic reactions, stomach bleeding, and Reye's syndrome — a serious condition characterized by liver and brain swelling.

Remember, self-diagnosis and self-medication may not always be the best approach when it comes to managing your health. If you're considering taking Excedrin Migraine or Excedrin Extra Strength, consider speaking with a healthcare professional first. They'll be able to evaluate your symptoms and provide personalized advice on the most suitable treatment options based on your needs.