Chronic Migraine : Pharmacologic Management
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2012. | Last updated: September 2023
Chronic migraine management depends on a multimodal approach, including pharmacotherapy, physical therapy, behavioral therapy, and other strategies, with the primary focus on preventive therapy, including avoidance of migraine triggers. Identification and treatment of comorbid conditions is an essential element of chronic migraine management. Use of acute headache medications should be kept to a minimum to avoid occurrence of medication overuse headache. While complete elimination of migraine attacks may not be achievable, the goal of prophylactic treatment is reducing both the frequency and/or severity of migraine attacks.
Generally, the same prophylactic pharmacotherapies that are used in the treatment of episodic migraine are also used to prevent chronic migraine. First-line treatments include drugs from the following classes: antidepressants, antiepileptics, and antihypertensives (beta-blockers).
 Since diagnostic criteria for chronic migraine have only recently been defined, only a small number of placebo-controlled clinical trials using standardized inclusion criteria have been conducted. Therefore, the evidence-base for making treatment recommendations is small.Table 1 shows prophylactic drug treatments that have been evaluated in clinical trials of chronic migraine patients. Effective prophylactic pharmacotherapy (defined as decreasing migraine frequency ≥50%) should be continued for 3 to 6 months before discontinuation.[1, 3-5]
|Table 1. Prophylactic agents evaluated in chronic migraine|
Typical Total Daily Dose
Common Side Effects
Serious Side Effects
|ParesthesiasFatigueWeight loss||Acute angle closureGlaucomaMetabolic acidosisHyperthermia|
|Divalproex sodium (mg)|
|Weight gainTremorNauseaAlopecia||PancreatitisLiver failureThrombocytopenia|
|InsomniaAstheniaTremor||Prolonged QT interval|
|SedationWeight gainConstipation||Cardiac dysrhythmias|
|Botulinum Toxin Type A (IU)|
|Neck painMuscular weakness|
|Adapted from Garza I, Schwedt TJ. Semin Neurol. 2010;30:154-66 and Mathew PG, Garza I. Semin Neurol. 2011;31:5-17, with data from Diener HC, Holle D, Dodick D. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2011;15:64-9 and Diener H, et al. Cephalalgia. 2010;30:804-814.|
Selection of Pharmacotherapy
Individual patient factors often determine the selection of a specific prophylactic drug to treat chronic migraine. These factors include the presence of comorbidities and symptoms, such as psychiatric disorders, medical disorders, fatigue, sleep disorders, other pain disorders, and gastrointestinal complaints. For example, antidepressant medications may be chosen for the patients who is depressed or have a history of depression, while antihypertensives may be well suited for hypertensive patients. With certain agents, typical dosing used for migraine may not be sufficient for the comorbid disorder and may have to be adjusted.
Nonpharmacologic treatments, including biofeedback, relaxation therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and physical therapy may be effective as part of a multimodal treatment strategies as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy for chronic migraine. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been associated with short-term and long-term reductions in migraine burden. Biofeedback has been shown to be effective in reducing markers of physiologic stress, including nitric oxide, in migraine patients. Research has demonstrated that aerobic activity results in significant improvements in migriane symptoms.