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Commentary: Menstruation, sleep, and visual disturbances in migraine, October 2022

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Women experience three times more migraine than men, and menstrual migraine specifically is a common subtype of migraine in women. Even women who do not have exclusively menstrual-related attacks can still have significant hormonal triggers of their migraine. The investigators here attempted to look at the efficacy of lasmiditan, a newer migraine-specific abortive medication, for this indication.

Lasmiditan—the first migraine treatment in the new ditan class— is a serotonin receptor agonist, similar to triptan medications. However, it is specific for the 5HT1F receptor rather than the 5HT1B/1D receptor. The main purpose of this specificity is that it leads to less vascular risk; specifically, this medication should be safer for populations at higher risk for vascular events, such as myocardial infarction and stroke.

Only one triptan, naratriptan, had previously been studied for the treatment of menstrual migraine, at a recommended dose of 2.5 mg twice daily as a bridge. A new study by MacGregor and colleagues looked at taking 50, 100, or 200 mg of lasmiditan vs placebo for an individual premenstrual attack.

The participants in the study were recruited from the intention-to-treat population of two prior studies for this drug, a phase 2 trial and a phase 3 trial. The menstrual calendars of the female participants were reviewed, followed by randomization into one of the four groups. Patients with chronic migraine were excluded from the study. The primary outcome was freedom from pain at 2 hours; secondary outcomes were freedom from the most bothersome symptom and reduction in pain severity.

Of the four populations followed, all three intervention groups noted significant results in freedom from pain at 2 hours compared with placebo. The 2-hour responder rate was 33.6% for the 200 mg group, 16.7% for the 50 mg and 100 mg groups, and 7.6% for the placebo group. Freedom from the most bothersome symptom and pain reduction were also significant in these populations.

Menstruation-associated migraine and worsening headache attacks due to patients' hormonal fluctuations are some of the most common issues and triggers that neurologists and headache specialists confront. Although the responder rates for freedom from pain at 2 hours were not very robust, lasmiditan does appear to be significantly effective in this population, and in those with menstrual triggers specifically. The field of headache medicine would be even better served by additional studies on both preventive and more acute medications in association with hormonal triggers.

Another very common trigger for migraine is changes in sleep patterns. An astute headache specialist will always ask about sleep quantity and quality during an initial assessment of a patient. Many headache centers have sleep-specific questionnaires that patients fill out during intake. The precise association between migraine and sleep deserves more elucidation. Duan and colleagues specifically set out to reveal whether differences in sleep quality affect migraine frequency; whether this is the same among different gender and age groups; and whether headache disability, severity, mood, and quality of life are related to underlying sleep changes independent of other factors.

A total of 134 participants with migraine and 70 without migraine or any other headache disorder were enrolled in the study. Sleep quality was assessed through The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) questionnaire. This is a commonly used self-reported questionnaire for assessing quality and quantity of sleep over the past month and is considered the standard of care in most sleep centers. The investigators here sought to determine the predictive value of the PSQI in regard to migraine. Migraine disability was assessed via the Migraine Disability Assessment (MIDAS) scale as well as the Headache Impact Test (HIT-6). Statistical analysis was performed with logistical regression, t test, and χ2 squared test.

There strongest correlations between poor sleep quality and risk of migraine were found in women, patients over 35 years old, and those with lower education levels. The results revealed that the migraine group had poorer sleep quality, as well as higher anxiety and depression scores, compared with the control group. A low PSQI score (eg, poorer sleep quality) was associated with higher migraine frequency; this was independent of body mass index (BMI), weekly exercise time, and smoking or drinking history. After participants were divided into good and poor sleep quality subgroups, the PSQI score was found to increase the odds ratio of migraine by a factor of 6.

The investigators were able to show the predictive quality of the PSQI score. Worse sleep quality was found to be associated with a higher MIDAS score and HIT-6 score as well as total pain burden, pain severity, decreased quality of life, depression, and anxiety. Although most headache specialists spend a significant amount of time discussing sleep as it relates to migraine, it may be worth considering following a sleep quality scale, such as the PSQI, over time as we monitor our patients. This may allow us to take a more proactive role and be able to prognosticate our patients' migraine journey somewhat better. Although sleep triggers and associations with migraine can be very difficult to discuss and treat, this study very clearly argues for the importance of focusing on sleep with our patients.

Although the most common aura our patients with migraine experience is visual, many patients with migraine will also experience non-aura visual changes. These can range from short-lasting episodes of blurred vision, such as transient visual obscurations, or other transient visual disturbances that do not fit the criteria of aura as defined by the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD).

A prior study by Tsao and colleagues had revealed that almost half of headache patients experienced some headache-related visual change, the most common of which were short-lasting flickering lights or a movable, monochromatic scotoma. As opposed to visual aura, these transient disturbances were shorter in onset and duration and typically occurred during the headache phase of a migraine attack. In the current study, Tsao and colleagues sought to determine whether the presence of these findings was associated with a different headache burden from that typically found in migraine with aura.

The participants in this study were enrolled over a 10-year period from May 2010 to July 2020. They initially underwent a visual phenomenon questionnaire and then a thorough clinical interview to determine their headache diagnosis per ICHD criteria — specifically whether they had an underlying diagnosis of migraine with aura or migraine without aura. Participants were also separately diagnosed with chronic migraine or medication overuse headache. A visual rating scale was used in the initial questionnaires. This scale posed questions about the duration of symptoms; whether the symptoms develop gradually or suddenly; and whether the visual change was a scotoma, zigzag lines, or in a unilateral or bilateral visual field. A prior study by these investigators determined this visual rating scale to be highly sensitive and specific for diagnosing migraine with aura.

Participants were also given the MIDAS questionnaire and were assessed with the HIT-6 scale, a migraine photophobia score, and the Beck Depression Inventory. A total of 12,255 patients were enrolled, 9946 with migraine, who were subdivided on the basis of diagnosis of migraine with or without aura. Blurred vision was the most common visual complaint among all migraine patients. Patients who had transient visual disturbances that did not fit the criteria of migraine with aura were noted to have a statistically significant higher headache frequency, more severe headache-related disability, a higher likelihood of developing medication overuse headache, and a greater incidence of anxiety and depression.

An important distinction that all headache specialists make is whether their patients experience migraine with or without aura. The primary purpose for this distinction is to determine the appropriateness of specific medications (estrogen or vasoconstrictive medications), as migraine aura relates to vascular risk. We usually delve deeply into whether the visual symptoms that our patients experience do or do not fit into the ICHD criteria of migraine aura. We should not discard or think less of non-aura visual disturbances; these authors argue very clearly that these kinds of visual changes can be very relevant prognostically.

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