Conference Coverage

How do neurologists choose an acute treatment for migraine?



– A large and growing number of medications is available for the acute treatment of migraine. Effective acute treatment enables patients to re-engage in their work and other daily activities, as well as reducing the likelihood that their disease will progress from episodic to chronic migraine. Considering appropriate routes of delivery, assessing efficacy and tolerability, and communicating well with the patient are essential components in the acute treatment of migraine, according to Barbara L. Nye, MD, assistant professor of neurology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Hanover, N.H.. Dr. Nye discussed the acute treatment of migraine at the annual meeting of the Headache Cooperative of New England.

Choosing an initial treatment

Nonspecific medications are perhaps the first treatments to consider for a patient with acute migraine. This class includes NSAIDs such as naproxen sodium, piroxicam, diclofenac, celecoxib, and indomethacin. Emerging data indicate that some NSAIDs are associated with an increased risk of stroke, which is an important consideration as the population ages, said Dr. Nye. Other nonspecific options are neuroleptics such as prochlorperazine, metoclopramide, promethazine, and chlorpromazine. Many neuroleptics have sedative effects, however, so they do not necessarily help a patient return to function. Nevertheless, these drugs can be good rescue medications, said Dr. Nye.

Triptans are effective in the acute treatment of migraine, and seven drugs in this class are available. Most, such as rizatriptan, almotriptan, eletriptan, naratriptan, and frovatriptan, are available only as tablets. Other routes of delivery are available, however. Sumatriptan, for example, is available in injectable and intranasal formulations, and zolmitriptan is available as an orally dissolving tablet.

Another option to consider is dihydroergotamine (DHE), which has long been used for migraine. The injectable formulation of DHE can be cumbersome because it requires the patients with a headache to open a vial, draw the medication into a filter needle, and inject themselves, said Dr. Nye. “The nasal sprays that are available right now aren’t as effective as we’d like them to be,” she added. But overall, DHE is effective. Associated adverse events include flushing, nausea, and diarrhea.

Lasmiditan received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the acute treatment of migraine in October 2019. Compared with placebo, the drug increases the likelihood of pain freedom and freedom from the most bothersome symptom at 2 hours. Driving tests indicated that patients were impaired for about 8 hours after treatment, and lasmiditan is a Schedule V drug. It is available in doses of 50 mg/day, 100 mg/day, and 200 mg/day.

The class of drugs known as the “gepants” provides further options. The most recently approved therapy in this class, which targets calcitonin gene–related peptide, is ubrogepant. Because the drug is metabolized through the CYP3A4 system, they are not appropriate for patients who use strong CYP3A4 inhibitors. The most common side effects are nausea, hypersensitivity reaction, and somnolence.

Neuromodulation can provide effective treatment without provoking side effects, said Dr. Nye. Options include transcutaneous supraorbital stimulation, single-pulse transcutaneous magnetic stimulation, noninvasive vagal nerve stimulation, and remote nonpainful stimulation.

If a patient presents during an acute attack, neurologists could consider using a nerve block. The latter may administer occipital nerve blocks, trigger point injections, auriculotemporal nerve blocks, and supraorbital and supratrochlear nerve blocks. This treatment can bring immediate relief, which is gratifying for patients and neurologists. But no consensus about which medications to use or how to administer them has been established. Neurologists most often use a combination of bupivacaine and lidocaine. Another possibility is a sphenopalatine ganglion nerve block, which requires treatment to be inserted through the nose. This treatment can be delivered in the office using the Sphenocath device or the Allevio device. Another device, the Tx360, is intended to enable patient self-administration.


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