Multiple Traits More Common in Difficult-to-Treat Migraine

Randy Dotinga

August 14, 2020

Compared with their counterparts who get more relief, patients with difficult-to-treat migraine are more likely to delay acute treatment and take over-the-counter and opioid painkillers. They are also more likely to have depression and impairment. Overall, insufficient responders—patients less likely to get relief shortly after acute treatment—are "more medically and psychosocially complex," wrote the authors of the study, which appeared in the July/August issue of Headache.

Common Characteristics of Insufficient Responders

The researchers, led by Louise Lombard, M Nutr, of Eli Lilly and Company, analyzed data from a 2014 cross-sectional survey. They tracked 583 patients with migraine, including 200 (34%) who were considered insufficient responders because they failed to achieve freedom from pain within 2 hours of acute treatment in at least four of five attacks.

The insufficient and sufficient responder groups were similar in age (mean = 40 for both) and gender (80% and 75% female, respectively, P = .170) and race (72% and 77% white, P = .279).

However, insufficient responders were clearly more affected by headaches, multiple treatments, and other burdens. Compared with those who had better responses to treatment, they were more likely to have four or more migraine headache days per month (46% vs. 31%), rebound or medication-overuse headaches (16% vs. 7%) and chronic migraine (12% vs. 5%, all P < .05).

They were also more likely to have comorbid depression (38% vs. 22%) and psychological conditions other than depression and anxiety (8% vs. 4%, all P < .05).

As for treatment, insufficient response was higher in patients who waited until the appearance of pain to take medication (odds ratio = 1.83, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.15–2.92, P = .011, after adjustment for covariates). And insufficient responders were more likely to have been prescribed at least three unique preventive regimens (12% vs. 6%), to take over-the-counter medications (50% vs. 38%) and to take opioid painkillers (16% vs. 8%, all P < .05).

The authors, who caution that the study does not prove cause and effect, wrote that insufficient responders "may benefit from education on how and when to use current treatments."

Managing Insufficient Responders

Neurology Reviews editor-in-chief Alan M. Rapoport, MD, said the study "confirms a lot of what we knew." Dr. Rapoport, who was not involved in the study, is clinical professor of neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"As expected, the insufficient responders used more opioids and over-the-counter medications, which is not the ideal way to treat migraine," he said. "That probably caused them to have medication-overuse headache, which might have caused them to respond poorly to even the best treatment regimen. They also had more severe symptoms, more comorbidities, and a poorer quality of life. They also had more impairment and greater impact on work, with more of them unemployed."

The insufficient responders also "took medication at the time or after the pain began, rather than before it when they thought the attack was beginning due to premonitory symptoms," he said.

Dr. Rapoport also noted a surprising and unusual finding: Patients who did not report sensitivity to light as their most bothersome symptom were more likely to be insufficient responders (OR = 2.3, 95% CI [1.21–4.37], P = .011). "In all recent migraine studies," he said, "the majority of patients selected photophobia as their most bothersome symptom."

In the big picture, he said, the study suggests that "a third triptan does not seem to work better than the first two, patients with medication-overuse headache and chronic migraine and those not on preventive medication do not respond that well to acute care treatment, and the same is true when depression is present."

No study funding was reported. Four study authors reported ties with Eli Lilly, and two reported employment by Adelphi Real World, which provided the survey results.

SOURCE: Lombard L et al. Headache. 2020;60(7):1325-39. doi: 10.1111/head.13835.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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