September 21, 2010 -- Most headache sufferers have their own tricks for relief -- drink water, take an aspirin, exercise, or perhaps take a nap. But for more than 29 million migraine sufferers, the agony can be much more difficult to escape.
New research suggests aspirin taken intravenously -- a migraine treatment already widely used in Europe -- may be an effective treatment for migraine patients in the U.S.
Researchers reviewed records of 168 patients hospitalized in London for chronic daily headaches and were given an average of five doses of intravenous (IV) aspirin. Two thirds of the patients reported a decrease in pain following the treatment, according to the study published Monday in the American Academy of Neurology.
Aspirin pills are effective in treating acute forms of migraines. A more intense delivery of aspirin through IV injection may provide relief for a more intense type of headache, said Dr. Peter Goadsby, co-author of the study and director of the headache clinic at University of California, San Francisco.
Twenty percent of migraine patients are currently taking potentially addictive medications that contain barbiturates or opioids that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the relief of migraines, according to the National Headache Foundation.
Medications work faster when injected than when taken as a pill. And although many quick-acting treatments are available for migraines, Goadsby said his team reviewed IV aspirin as perhaps one of the only non-sedating and non-addictive IV medications that could work for some patients with severe migraines.
"It [this study] also demonstrates that migraine patients are not looking for sedation or addiction, they're looking for relief," said Goadsby. "And if you can give them relief with all of the other side effects, then they'll be fine."
IV Aspirin Not So Unique, Experts Said
The study reviewed a relatively small number of cases and did not compare these cases to patients who received other types of migraine treatments. IV aspirin is not approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, some experts said the study suggested that IV aspirin may be safe and effective in treating some types of migraines.
"The majority of the patients reviewed had classic migraines," said Dr. Chaim Colen, director of neurosurgical oncology at Beaumont Hospitals in Grosse Pointe, Mich. "I think it's important to evaluate how well this works for other types of migraines as well."
According to Dr. Joel Saper, founder and director of the Institute and the Inpatient Head and Pain Treatment Unit at Chelsea Community Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., the study does not outline what type of patients will benefit from IV aspirin. Saper said that IV aspirin, "hasn't given us anything but an extra drug," to combat migraines.
"There are many drugs that can break a headache, and many of the drugs have been shown to be effective," said Saper. "Aspirin may be another product that can help, but I don't see it being any more remarkable than another product."
Saper said a necessary treatment for migraine sufferers is one that could prevent the headache from recurring. The study did not show that IV aspirin could do that, he said.
According to the National Headache Foundation, 82 percent of patients have taken more than one prescription medication for their migraines. Patients take on average four different medications to treat migraines, including ones that may be highly addictive or sedative.
Colen said that while more studies are necessary to determine the efficacy of the treatment, IV aspirin may work for some patients if other treatments have not.
"I would hesitate to promote this as a holy grail of migraine treatment. I think this opens avenues for ways that (the) FDA could [begin] looking into," said Colen. "Aspirin is a relatively inexpensive drug, and it could be useful."