Pharmacological approaches to migraine

J Neural Transm Suppl. 2003;(64):35-63. doi: 10.1007/978-3-7091-6020-6_3.


Migraine is a paroxysmal disorder with attacks of headache, nausea, vomiting, photo- and phonophobia and malaise. This review summarises new treatment options both for the therapy of the acute attack as well as for migraine prophylaxis. Analgesics like aspirin or nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are effective in treating migraine attacks. Few controlled trials were performed for the use of ergotamine or dihydroergotamine. These trials indicate inferior efficacy compared to serotonin (5-HT)1B/D-agonists (further on called "triptans"). The triptans (almotriptan, eletriptan, frovatriptan, naratriptan, rizatriptan, sumatriptan and zolmitriptan) are highly effective. They improve headache as well as nausea, photo- and phonophobia. The different triptans have minor differences in efficacy, headache recurrence and adverse effects. The knowledge of their different pharmacological profile allows a more specific treatment of the individual migraine characteristics. Migraine prophylaxis is recommended, when more than 3 attacks occur per month, if attacks do not respond to acute treatment or if side effects of acute treatment are severe. Substances with proven efficacy include the beta-blockers metoprolol and propranolol, the calcium channel blocker flunarizine, several 5-HT antagonists and amitriptyline. Recently antiepileptic drugs (valproic acid, gabapentin, topiramate) were evaluated for the prophylaxis of migraine. The use of botulinum-toxin is under investigation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents