Clinical Topics & News

Robert Cowan, MD, Discusses Patient Perspectives Study Outcomes


Robert Cowan, MD

While efficacy is top-of-mind for patients when starting a new migraine preventive, a recent study published in Headache found that reduction in migraine days is not the only priority for many migraine sufferers.

In a sampling of 300 individuals with a mean age of 41 years and nearly 16 self-reported headache days per month over the past 6 months, respondents agreed that they were willing to trade some degree of efficacy for less severe adverse events—namely weight gain and memory problems—and that they were even willing to pay more for these tradeoffs in some cases. On average, respondents were willing to pay:

  • $84 more (95% confidence interval [CI], $64‐$103) per month to avoid a 10% weight gain
  • $59 more (95% CI, $42‐$76) per month to avoid memory problems
  • $35 more (95% CI, $20‐$51) per month to avoid a 5% weight gain, and
  • $32 (95% CI, $18‐$46) per month to avoid thinking problems.

Within the pool, 81% of respondents confirmed that they had taken a prescription medicine to prevent migraine in the past 6 months.

I think the broad message of this study is important: migraine is not just about migraine or headache days per month. This should not come as news to anyone with more than a passing interest in this condition. As an epidemiological study, it is useful to understand how migraine patients, as a group, view the relative value of cost, side effects, etc. For clinicians, the value of this study is to remind us of the complexity we need to consider when prescribing a migraine treatment. Issues of co-morbidity, economic resources, type of work or daily activities, and most bothersome symptom all play into the decision process, and it is critical to have the patient expressly involved in this process. It is not just about migraine days. It never has been.

Implicit in this article is the reality that we now have a wide variety of pharmacologic and device options for treating migraine. In the past, this was not the case. There is no clear winner among the preventives in terms of headache or migraine days per month. Rather, as the article suggests, we now have the option of selecting our preventives based on a cost-benefit analysis. Because of the near parity in terms of efficacy, the choices are often based on accessibility, financial burden, delivery system, and side effect profile. Properly presented, this can be an empowering experience for the patient. Choices may involve the need for trialing one or more treatments before gaining access to a preferred treatment, or the willingness to risk the chance of an untoward side effect against the promise of a more convivial dosing regimen. This collaborative decision-making process helps center the locus of control with the patient and secure a healthy relationship between the provider and patient.

It should also be remembered that the promise of a given side effect profile is based on the observation in trials and does not reflect the probability of a given outcome in a single patient. Neither does the side effect profile generated in a controlled trial necessarily reflect the side effect profile in any given individual. Too often we fail to stress this to patients and a 1% risk becomes an unavoidable consequence or a promise of smooth sailing. Time spent educating patients (and providers) with regard to the interpretation of efficacy and risk data, is time well spent.

Dr. Cowan is a Higgins Professor of Neurology, Chief of the Division of Headache Medicine and the Department of Neurology and Neurosciences, and Director of the Center for Headache and Facial Pain, at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Next Article: