How to Apply the AHS Evidence Assessment of the Acute Treatment of Migraine in Adults to your Patient with Migraine

Headache. 2016 Jul;56(7):1194-200. doi: 10.1111/head.12870. Epub 2016 Jun 20.


The "Acute Treatment of Migraine in Adults: The American Headache Society Evidence Assessment of Migraine Pharmacotherapies" provides levels of evidence for medication efficacy for acute treatment of migraine. The goal of this companion paper is to provide guidance on how to choose between evidence-based treatment options, and, based on the clinical characteristics of the patient and their migraine attacks, to provide guidance on designing an individualized strategy for managing migraine attacks. The acute pharmacological treatments described in the American Headache Society evidence assessment can be divided into those initially taken by the patient during the headache phase of the migraine attack, those taken by the patient later in the attack when initial treatments fail, and those administered intravenously or intramuscularly in urgent care settings. Medications taken initially by patients in the headache phase include nonspecific analgesics such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), triptans, and dihydroergotamine (DHE). A stratified approach to treatment is advised, with the choice of medication based on the patient's treatment needs, taking into consideration the attack severity, presence of associated symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, and the degree of migraine-related disability. Individuals with migraine may find reassurance in having a "back-up plan" in the event of an initial acute treatment failure. For those individuals who had a partial response to the initial acute treatment, a second dose might be indicated. When the initial treatment does not provide meaningful and sustained benefits, a treatment from a different medication class is typically chosen. Depending upon the initial treatment used, this might include NSAIDs, triptans, or DHE. Opioids or acetaminophen in combination with codeine or tramadol can be considered as part of the "back-up plan," provided they are used infrequently. When all patient administered treatments have failed and moderate to severe migraine symptoms remain, some individuals seek treatment in urgent care settings. The intravenous administration of antiemetics with or without an intravenous or intramuscular NSAID or DHE, or an intramuscular opioid can be considered. Patients with migraine should be encouraged to treat migraine pain early, and avoid overuse of medications.

Keywords: acute migraine therapy; stratified care; triptans.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Central Nervous System Agents / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Societies, Medical
  • United States


  • Central Nervous System Agents