Using Indocin for Certain Headache Disorders

Function, Risks, and Side Effects of Indocin for Primary Headaches

Indocin (indomethacin) is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, or NSAID, used to treat a number of primary headache disorders, called indomethacin-responsive headaches. Let's examine which headache disorders these are, and what to expect if you are prescribed Indocin.

What Headache Disorders are Treated with Indocin?

These are all rare primary headache disorders and typically require that a doctor perform imaging tests, like an MRI of the brain, to rule out secondary causes first. It's possible that cluster headaches, nummular headaches, and opthalmoplegic migraine respond to indomethacin as well, although the scientific data is not asrobust. 

How Does Indocin Work?

It's believed to work by blocking the formation of prostaglandins in the body, which play an important role in inflammation. 

What are the Potential Serious Risks of Taking Indocin?

Two of the most serious precautions in taking Indocin is that it can increase a person's risk of cardiovascular disease, which means it increases a person's risk of heart attack and stroke. It can also raise a person's blood pressure or contribute to heart failure.

In addition, Indocin increases a person's risk of gastrointestinal upset, bleeding, and ulcer formation. It can also cause life-threatening skin reactions, liver dysfunction, kidney problems, or a severe allergic reaction.

Indocin, like other NSAIDs, should be avoided in the later stages of pregnancy.

Based on these risks, it's important that you check with your doctor right away if any of the following signs or symptoms occur:

  • trouble breathing, swelling of the face or throat, other signs of an allergic reaction
  • skin rash and/or blisters, fever, or itching
  • heartburn, indigestion
  • black, tarry stool
  • bloody vomit
  • fluid retention, swelling of hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
  • chest pain or difficulty getting air
  • signs of possible stroke like weakness, slurring of speech, or numbness and tingling

What are the Potential Side Effects of Indocin?

There are a number of possible side effects, but the more common ones include:

  • stomach upset 
  • constipation
  • headache
  • dizziness or vertigo
  • depression and fatigue
  • tiredness
  • ringing in the ears

Speak with your doctor if any side effects are bothersome, persistent, or worrying you. 

What Should I Do If My Doctor Prescribes Indocin?

Be sure to tell your doctor your full medical history. Some people should not take Indocin or may need to be monitored more closely based on their past or current health conditions. 

It's also important to bring along a list of all your medications, including over-the-counter medications and any additional vitamins or supplements. Some people should not take Indocin if they are on certain medications.

Indocin can be quite effective, offering significant relief, if you have been diagnosed with an indomethacin-responsive headache. It can also be useful in confirming your diagnosis. 

Material on this page is for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice. Always consult your physician or pharmacist regarding medications.

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Article Sources

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  • FDA. (2008). Indocin (Indomethacin). Retrieved December 2nd 2015. 
  • Sjaastad O & Vincent M. Indomethacin responsive headache syndromes: chronic paroxysmal hemicrania and Hemicrania continua. How they were discovered and what we have learned since. Funct Neurol. 2010 Jan-Mar;25(1):49-55.
  • VanderPluym J. Indomethacin-responsive headaches. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2015;15(2):516.