Variability in recurrence rates with acute treatments for migraine: why recurrence is not an appropriate outcome measure

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Stewart J. Tepper, Jessica Ailani, Sutapa Ray, Joe Hirman, Stephen B. Shrewsbury & Sheena K. Aurora

Background: Headache recurrence is a common feature of acute therapies, whether approved or still in development, and continues to be a significant problem for both the patient and the clinician. Further complicating this issue is lack of standardization in definitions of recurrence used in clinical trials, as well as disparity in patient characteristics, rendering a comparison of different acute medications challenging. Recurrence has serious clinical implications, which can include an increased risk for new-onset chronic migraine and/or development of medication overuse headache. The aim of this review is to illustrate variability of recurrence rates depending on prevailing definitions in the literature for widely used acute treatments for migraine and to emphasize sustained response as a clinically relevant endpoint for measuring prolonged efficacy.

Body: A literature search of PubMed for articles of approved acute therapies for migraine that reported recurrence rates was performed. Study drugs of interest included select triptans, gepants, lasmiditan, and dihydroergotamine mesylate. An unpublished post hoc analysis of an investigational dihydroergotamine mesylate product that evaluated recurrence rates using several different definitions of recurrence common in the literature is also included. Depending on the criteria established by the clinical trial and the definition of recurrence used, rates of recurrence vary considerably across different acute therapies for migraine, making it difficult to compare results of different trials to assess the sustained (i.e., over a single attack) and the prolonged (i.e., over multiple attacks) efficacy of a particular study medication.

Conclusion: A standardized definition of recurrence is necessary to help physicians evaluate recurrence rates of different abortive agents for migraine. Sustained pain relief or freedom may be more comprehensive efficacy outcome measures than recurrence. Future efficacy studies should be encouraged to use the recommended definition of sustained pain freedom set by the International Headache Society.

To cite: Tepper, S.J., Ailani, J., Ray, S. et al. Variability in recurrence rates with acute treatments for migraine: why recurrence is not an appropriate outcome measure. J Headache Pain 23, 148 (2022).