Treating migraines: It’s different for kids

Author and Disclosure Information

Certain medications used for migraine prevention in adults do not perform the same way in children and adolescents and can actually cause harm.


Do not prescribe amitriptyline or topiramate as preventive therapy for migraine in children; both drugs are no better than placebo for this population and are associated with increased rates of adverse events.1,2


A: Based on a single double-blind randomized control trial (RCT) and supported by a meta-analysis of 4 RCTs.

1. Powers SW, Coffey CS, Chamberlin LA, et al; for the CHAMP Investigators. Trial of amitriptyline, topiramate, and placebo for pediatric migraine. N Engl J Med. 2017;376:115-124.

2. Le K, Yu D, Wang J, et al. Is topiramate effective for migraine prevention in patients less than 18 years of age? A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Headache Pain. 2017;18:69.




A 15-year-old girl presents to your clinic with poorly controlled chronic migraines that are preventing her from attending school 3 to 4 days per month. As part of her treatment regimen, you are considering migraine prevention strategies.

Should you prescribe amitriptyline or topiramate for preventive migraine therapy?

Migraine headaches are the most common reason for headache presentation in pediatric neurology outpatient clinics, affecting 5% to 10% of the pediatric population worldwide.2 Current recommendations regarding prophylactic migraine therapy in childhood are based on consensus opinions.3,4 And the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medications for preventing migraines in children younger than 12 years of age. However, surveys of pediatric headache specialists suggest that amitriptyline and topiramate are among the most commonly prescribed medications for childhood migraine prophylaxis.3,4

There is low-quality evidence from individual randomized controlled trials (RCTs) about the effectiveness of topiramate. A meta-analysis by El-Chammas and colleagues included 3 RCTs comparing topiramate to placebo for the prevention of episodic migraines (migraine headaches that occur <15 times/month) in a combined total of 283 children younger than 18 years of age.5 Topiramate demonstrated a nonclinically significant, but statistically significant, reduction of less than one headache per month (-0.71; 95% confidence interval [CI], -1.19 to -0.24). This is based on moderate quality evidence due to a high placebo response rate and study durations of only 12 weeks.5 The FDA has approved topiramate for migraine prevention in children ages 12 to 17 years.6

Adult guidelines. The findings described above are consistent with the most recent adult guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society.7 In a joint publication from 2012, these societies recommended both topiramate and amitriptyline for the prevention of migraines in adults based on high-quality (Level A evidence) and medium-quality evidence (Level B), respectively.7


Copyright © 2018. The Family Physicians Inquiries Network. All rights reserved.

Online-Only Materials

PDF icon jfp06704238_.pdf178.78 KB

Next Article: