NHF Survey – Migraine-Specific Medications vs. Nonspecific Medications for Acute Treatment

by Teri Robert, MyMigraineConnection Lead Expert

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"We have really great Migraine-specific medications available, and they're not being prescribed to people who could benefit from them… Often, physicians prescribe nonspecific medications because medications such as Fiorinal and Fioricet may help take the edge off Migraine or tension-type headache; but what we have to realize is that the right thing is for the sufferer to have a specific diagnosis and choose treatment appropriate to the diagnosis.”

Dr. Richard B. Lipton

professor and vice chair of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and director of the Montefiore Headache Center

An online survey of Migraineurs and physicians commissioned by the National Headache Foundation and conducted by Harris Interactive shows that 20 percent of Migraine patients are currently taking “potentially addictive medications that contain barbiturates or opioids and have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the relief of Migraines.”

The survey also shows that patients taking prescription medications not approved by the FDA to treat Migraines are more likely to experience drug-related side effects than patients taking prescription medications that have been approved by the FDA as Migraine treatments.

In the realm of Migraine treatment, we often place little emphasis on whether our medications have been specifically FDA approved for the treatment of Migraine since so few are FDA approved for the prevention of Migraine. In fact, there is not a single medication that was originally developed for Migraine prevention. All were originally developed for other purposes. When it comes to treating Migraine attacks (acute treatment), however, that’s not the case. There are now seven triptans (Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, Amerge, Axert, Frova, and Relpax) that were developed for and FDA approved as Migraine abortive medications. These medications work to actually stop the Migrainous process in the brain and stop the Migraine attack and its associated symptoms. Ergotamine medications such as DHE and Migranal are also FDA approved for Migraine treatment as is Midrin. This study involved prescription pain relieving medications, which cannot abort a Migraine, and triptans. Thus, the issue here is not so much FDA approval of acute medications, but the difference between using “pain medications” as opposed to Migraine-specific medications.

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