A Comparison of Efficacy and Safety of Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs versus Acetaminophen in the Treatment of Episodic Tension-type Headache: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Placebo-controlled Trial Studies

Korean J Fam Med. 2012 Sep;33(5):262-71. doi: 10.4082/kjfm.2012.33.5.262. Epub 2012 Sep 27.


Background: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen are widely used in the treatment of tension headache. The objective of this study was to evaluate and compare the efficacy and safety of single doses of acetaminophen and NSAIDs using meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trial studies.

Methods: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Cochrane, KMbase, KoreaMed, RiCH, National Assembly Library, Riss4u, and DBPIA for studies released through 27th July 2010. Two authors independently extracted the data. To assess the risk of bias, the Cochrane Collaborations risk of bias tool was used. Review Manager 5.0 was used for statistics.

Results: We identified 6 studies. The relative benefit of the NSAIDs group compared to the acetaminophen group for participants with at least 50% pain relief was 1.18 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.99 to 1.39; I(2) = 85%). We did subgroup analysis based on allocation concealment versus non-allocation concealment, and low-dose NSAIDs versus high-dose NSAIDs. The relative benefit of the low-dose NSAIDs subgroup to the acetaminophen group was 0.98 (95% CI, 0.91 to 1.06; I(2) = 0%). However, the heterogeneity of other subgroup analysis was not settled. The relative risk for using rescue medication of the NSAIDs group compared to the acetaminophen group was 0.84 (95% CI, 0.64 to 1.12; I(2) = 47%). The relative risk for adverse events was 1.31(95% CI, 0.96 to 1.80; I(2) = 0%).

Conclusion: In this meta-analysis, there was no difference between low-dose NSAIDs and acetaminophen in the efficacy of the treatment for tension type headache. The results suggested that high-dose NSAIDs have more effect but also have more adverse events. The balance of benefit and harm needs to be considered when using high-dose NSAIDs for tension headache.

Keywords: Acetaminophen; Meta-analysis; Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs; Tension-type Headache.