Many individuals suffering from migraines struggle to find treatments that work consistently, and often there’s a lack of comparative information on different medications. A new study, utilizing data from about 300,000 people through a smartphone app, aims to aid in making informed decisions about migraine medications.
This research, published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, reveals that certain medications for migraines, such as triptans, ergots, and anti-emetics, may be significantly more effective—ranging from two to five times—than ibuprofen in managing migraine attacks.
Migraine Characteristics and Treatment Challenges
Migraine attacks are characterized by intense throbbing head pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, or vomiting. Previous research has shown migraine can also be associated with cognitive issues. All of these symptoms may impact a person’s quality of life and productivity.
“There are many treatment options available to those with migraine. However, there is a lack of head-to-head comparisons of the effectiveness of these treatment options,” said study author Chia-Chun Chiang, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and member of the American Academy of Neurology. “These results confirm that triptans should be considered earlier for treating migraine, rather than reserving their use for severe attacks.”
Study Methodology and Findings
For the study, researchers included over 3 million migraine attacks from nearly 300,000 users that were self-reported by people using a smartphone app during a six-year period. The app allows users to monitor the frequency of migraine attacks, triggers, symptoms and medication effectiveness.
For those migraine attacks, participants entered 4.7 million treatment attempts with various medications into the app. They recorded in the app whether a medication was helpful or not. Researchers then used that information to calculate the effectiveness of each drug compared to ibuprofen.
Researchers looked at a total of 25 medications among seven drug classes. Different dosages of medication and formulas of each medication were combined in this analysis.
The study found that the top three classes of medications more effective than ibuprofen were triptans, ergots, and anti-emetics. Triptans were five times more effective than ibuprofen, ergots were three times more effective and anti-emetics were two and a half times more effective.
When looking at individual medications, the top three were eletriptan which was six times more effective than ibuprofen, zolmitriptan which was five and a half times more effective and sumatriptan which was five times more effective.
Researchers found that when using eletriptan, participants found it helpful 78% of the time. Zolmitriptan was helpful 74% of the time and sumatriptan was helpful 72% of the time. Ibuprofen was helpful 42% of the time.
Researchers also looked at other groups of medication such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs other than ibuprofen were 94% more effective than ibuprofen.
Participants found ketorolac helpful 62% of the time, indomethacin was helpful 57% of the time, and diclofenac was helpful 56% of the time. However, acetaminophen was helpful 37% of the time and found to be 17% less effective than ibuprofen when used for treating migraines.
Additionally, a common combination of medications used to treat migraine, aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine was also evaluated and found to be 69% more effective than ibuprofen.
“For people whose acute migraine medication is not working for them, our hope is that this study shows that there are many alternatives that work for migraine, and we encourage people to talk with their doctors about how to treat this painful and debilitating condition,” said Chiang.
A limitation of the study was evaluations of medications could be influenced by a user’s expectations of the medication or the dosage they took. Another limitation was that newer migraine medications, gepants, and ditans, were not included in the study due to the low amount of data when the study was conducted and lack of availability in many countries.
Reference: “Simultaneous Comparisons of 25 Acute Migraine Medications Based on 10 Million Users’ Self-Reported Records From a Smartphone Application” by Chia-Chun Chiang, Xuemin Fang, Zsolt Horvath, Francois Cadiou, Alexandre Urani, Weijie Poh, Hiroto Narimatsu, Yu Cheng and David W. Dodick, 12 December 2023, Neurology.
The study was supported by the Kanagawa University of Human Services.