Migraine Drugs Underused


ABINGTON, Pa. — About 38 million Americans suffer from migraines in the United States, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. The most commonly used and effective classes of medication, triptans and DHE (Dihydroergotamine), however, have a black box warning for two subtypes of migraine because of risk of stroke. Now researchers at Abington-Jefferson Health have shown that patients who were given the drugs off-label had no stroke or other cardiovascular side-effects from taking the drugs.

Not only does the study suggest these drugs are safe for this subset of migraine patients, it could also have implications for the nearly 10 million migraine sufferers who experience auras – a disturbance in vision, touch, speech, thinking, or strength that usually precedes a migraine headache.

"There are not enough medicines out there to appropriately manage migraine headaches," says senior author Brad Klein, MD, Medical Director of the Headache Center at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health.  "At a time in history when an unprecedented number of people are getting hooked on narcotic opiates by way of prescribed medications – as is the case with migraine sufferers as well – we owe it to ourselves as physicians to try medications that could work without the risk of addiction," says Klein. The study was published in the journal Headache.

Migraines are thought to cause pain because they cause a swelling of the blood vessels feeding the brain. However, two subtypes of migraines, basilar and hemiplegic, are thought to cause pain by doing the opposite – constricting rather than swelling the blood vessels of the brain. Triptans and DHE are both thought to relieve migraine, in part, by constricting blood vessels. Early on, drug developers worried that adding more constriction to basilar and hemiplegic migraines could put these patients at greater risk of stroke, so these patients were excluded from the initial studies. "As a result," says Klein, "no one ever actually showed that these drugs were dangerous – they were just assumed to be dangerous based on their mechanism of action. And recent research suggests that the auras are not due to blood vessel constriction."

Migraines can be very complex to diagnose and there are few certified headache specialists in the United States – only 500 for the 38 million sufferers, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. "Because auras are associated with basilar and hemiplegic migraine, many physicians refuse to give these drugs to any patients experiencing an aura out of a false sense of precaution," says Dr. Klein. Instead migraine sufferers may be given other, less effective drugs such as opioid narcotics.

This information provided courtesy of Abington-Jefferson Health

-Original Publish Date: November 2016