Clinicians hoped that medications used in adults – such as antidepressants, antiepileptics, antihypertensive agents, calcium channel blockers, and food supplements – would find similar success in children. Unfortunately, researchers found only short-term signs of efficacy over placebo, with no benefit lasting more than 6 months.
The study, conducted by a team led by Cosima Locher, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital, included 23 double-blind, randomized, controlled trials with a total of 2,217 patients; the mean age was 11 years. They compared 12 pharmacologic agents with each other or with placebo in the study, published online in.
In a main efficacy analysis that included 19 studies, only two treatments outperformed placebo: propranolol (standardized mean difference, 0.60; 95% confidence interval, 0.03-1.17) and topiramate (SMD, 0.59; 95% CI, 0.03-1.15). There were no statistically significant between-treatment differences.
The results had an overall low to moderate certainty.
When propranolol was compared to placebo, the 95% prediction interval (–0.62 to 1.82) was wider than the significant confidence interval (0.03-1.17), and comprised both beneficial and detrimental effects. A similar result was found with topiramate, with a prediction interval of –0.62 to 1.80 extending into nonsignificant effects (95% CI, 0.03-1.15). In both cases, significant effects were found only when the prediction interval was 70%.
In a long-term analysis (greater than 6 months), no treatment outperformed placebo.
The treatments generally were acceptable. The researchers found no significant difference in tolerability between any of the treatments and each other or placebo. Safety data analyzed from 13 trials revealed no significant differences between treatments and placebo.
“Because specific effects of drugs are associated with the size of the placebo effect, the lack of drug efficacy in our NMA [network meta-analysis] could be owing to a comparatively high placebo effect in children. In fact, there is indirect evidence [from other studies] that the placebo effect is more pronounced in children and adolescents than in adults,” Dr. Locher and associates said. They suggested that studies were needed to quantify the placebo effect in pediatric migraine, and if it was large, to develop innovative therapies making use of this.
The findings should lead to some changes in practice, Boris Zernikow, MD, PhD, of Children’s and Adolescents’ Hospital Datteln (Germany) wrote in an accompanying editorial.
Pharmacological prophylactic treatment of childhood migraine should be an exception rather than the rule, and nonpharmacologic approaches should be emphasized, particularly because the placebo effect is magnified in children, he said.
Many who suffer migraines in childhood will continue to be affected in adulthood, so pediatric intervention is a good opportunity to instill effective strategies. These include: using abortive medication early in an attack and using antimigraine medications for only that specific type of headache; engaging in physical activity to reduce migraine attacks; getting sufficient sleep; and learning relaxation and other psychological approaches to counter migraines.
Dr. Zernikow had no relevant financial disclosures. One study author received grants from Amgen and other support from Grunenthal and Akelos. The study received funding from the Sara Page Mayo Endowment for Pediatric Pain Research, Education, and Treatment; the Swiss National Science Foundation; the Schweizer-Arau-Foundation; and the Theophrastus Foundation.
SOURCES: Locher C et al. JAMA Pediatrics. 2020 Feb 10. ; Zernikow B. JAMA Pediatrics. 2020 Feb 10. .