, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 15-27
Date: 02 Dec 2010

Symptomatic Treatment of Migraine: When to Use NSAIDs, Triptans, or Opiates

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Opinion statement

Migraine is a biologic disorder of the brain characterized by a heterogeneous array of symptoms and episodes of disabling headache. By definition, such attacks last between 4 and 72 h without treatment, with the disability arising from a variety of factors including severe pain, gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, and sensory sensitivities to light, noise, or odor. All these features may be exacerbated by stimulation, motion, or activity, often rendering the patient completely immobile. Although retreat and rest, coupled with local application of ice, may provide some measure of comfort, most of those with migraine hunt for therapeutic solutions. In designing acute headache treatment strategies, it is imperative for clinicians to recognize the variability between individuals in the frequency, intensity, and duration of attacks. Certain patients require more aggressive options. It is also crucial to identify the significant intra-individual variability of migraine; most patients describe an assortment of headaches of different intensities and time to disability. Less intense episodes, which patients often term sinus, tension, or regular headaches, usually represent milder versions of migraine, simplifying both diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. Evidence-based guidelines and clinical experience support the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in the management of mild to moderate migraine attacks. Recommend migraine-specific agents (triptans and dihydroergotamine) when the attacks are more severe or have consistently failed to respond to the use of NSAIDs in the past. Encourage those with less frequent episodic migraine to use their acute agents at the earliest signs of headache. Advise those with frequent headache (>10 days per month) to limit acute treatments to only the most disabling episodes in order to avoid the “medication overuse” phenomenon. Consider rescue or back-up therapy. Do not use compounds containing butalbital or opiates (or place extreme limits on them), out of concern for progression to chronic migraine.