Pearl of the Month

Migraine headache pearls


A 25-year-old woman presents to discuss treatment of her headaches. They occur two or three times a month and last for 4-6 hours. The headaches are disabling, have a pounding quality behind the patient’s right eye, and worsen with exercise. The patient’s neurologic exam is normal.

She has tried oral sumatriptan and naproxen, but neither drug provided her with any relief from the headaches. What treatment would you recommend?

A. Topiramate

B. Beta-blocker

C. Lasmiditan

D. Metoclopramide plus sumatriptan

E. Ubrogepant

It is common to see patients with migraine headaches and to see patients with migraines who have not responded to previous migraine therapies. This column will focus on some migraine therapy pearls.


For this patient, I would try choice D first, giving metoclopramide with oral sumatriptan to see if it can improve response to sumatriptan. The two new classes of drugs for acute migraine therapy, the gepants and ditans, certainly have a role in patients unresponsive or intolerant of triptans/NSAIDS, but I would try several tricks with these less expensive medications first before entering into prior authorization hell trying to get a gepant or ditan.

When a patient has already used a triptan but experienced no benefit from it, often the next medication a patient tries is a different triptan. Dahlof reviewed four trials that looked at the efficacy of switching sumatriptan nonresponders to a different triptan and found that lack of response to sumatriptan did not predict lack of response to an alternative triptan.1 Unfortunately, acquiring insurance coverage for an alternate triptan can be difficult.

Other treatment options are nasal or injectable formulations of sumatriptan. Both of these are more costly than oral sumatriptan, and injectable sumatriptan has more side effects than oral triptans.

Combining treatment with metoclopramide can be helpful. In a study by Schulman and Dermott looking at patients who had previously been triptan nonresponders, 63% of those who took metoclopramide with sumatriptan had meaningful pain relief, compared with 31% of those who received sumatriptan and placebo.2

In a different study, Tfelt-Hansen et al. compared treatment with the combination of lysine acetylsalicylate plus metoclopramide versus treatment with 100 mg of sumatriptan.3 There was no difference in outcomes between the two treatment groups, with the lysine acetylsalicylate plus metoclopramide patients having a 57% success rate for first treated migraine compared with 53% of the sumatriptan-treated patients.

Dr. Douglas S. Paauw, University of Washington, Seattle

Dr. Douglas S. Paauw

Treating with the combination of naproxen plus sumatriptan is superior to treating with either medication alone. Brandes et al. reported on two studies involving the use of the sumatriptan/naproxen combination, compared with using sumatriptan, naproxen, or placebo.4 In both, taking the sumatriptan/naproxen combination was superior to taking sumatriptan, naproxen, or placebo (P < .001).

In a study of patients with poor prior response to triptans, Mathew et al. found that the sumatriptan/naproxen combination was superior to placebo for both 2- and 24-hour headache relief (P < .001).5


Try several options before abandoning triptans in previous triptan nonresponders, including trying a different triptan, adding metoclopramide, orcombining with an NSAID.

Dr. Paauw is professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle, and he serves as third-year medical student clerkship director at the University of Washington. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Internal Medicine News. Dr. Paauw has no conflicts to disclose. Contact him at [email protected].


1. Dahlöf CG. Infrequent or nonresponse to oral sumatriptan does not predict response to other triptans – review of four trials. Cephalalgia. 2006 Feb;26(2):98-106.

2. Schulman EA, Dermott KF. Sumatriptan plus metoclopramide in triptan-nonresponsive migraineurs. Headache. 2003 Jul-Aug;43(7):729-33.

3. Tfelt-Hansen P et al. The effectiveness of combined oral lysine acetylsalicylate and metoclopramide compared with oral sumatriptan for migraine. Lancet. 1995 Oct 7;346(8980):923-6.

4. Brandes JL et al. Sumatriptan‐naproxen for acute treatment of migraine: A randomized trial. JAMA. 2007;297:1443‐54.

5. Mathew NT, Landy S, Stark S, et al. Fixed‐dose sumatriptan and naproxen in poor responders to triptans with a short half‐life. Headache. 2009;49:971‐82.

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