Conference Coverage

Treatment of episodic cluster headache deviates from recommendations



Among patients with episodic cluster headache, the use of acute medications is high, but the use of preventive medications is low, according to an analysis presented at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society.

Dr. Jeffrey Scott Andrews, senior research scientist at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis.

Dr. Jeffrey Scott Andrews

Although consensus treatment guidelines do not exist for episodic cluster headache, treatment of this disorder did not follow many established recommendations that call for the use of preventive medications (e.g., MacGregor et al., 2010; Sarchielli et al., 2012; and May et al., 2006). Additional preventive medication options may be needed.

Patients with episodic cluster headache have several unilateral headache attacks per day. Little information is available to guide the selection of treatments for this population, and little is known about how available treatments are used in routine practice.

Analyzing cross-sectional survey data

To address this paucity of evidence, Jeffrey Scott Andrews, PharmD, a senior research scientist at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis, and colleagues examined data from the Adelphi 2017 Cluster Headache Disease Specific Programme, a large, international, cross-sectional survey. Physicians and patients in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States responded to the survey. Eligible physicians consulted with at least four patients with cluster headache per month, and eligible patients had a diagnosis of episodic cluster headache that was consistent with ICHD-3 beta criteria. Additional data were collected from all participants through questionnaires.

The analysis included 309 patients in Germany, 328 in the United Kingdom, and 375 in the United States. The average age of the patients was 40 years, and most of the patients were male. Less than 70% of patients reported working full time, which may indicate “the impact of this condition on work status,” said Dr. Andrews. Patients’ average number of attacks per day within an active period was 2.4. The two most commonly reported comorbidities were anxiety and depression. About 40% of cases of depression were reported to have occurred after the receipt of a diagnosis of cluster headache.

Use of inhaled oxygen was low

Most patients received acute treatments. The proportion of patients who received acute therapy only was 53% in Germany, 48% in the United Kingdom, and 43% in the United States. Approximately 34% of patients in Germany received a combination of acute and preventive therapy, compared with 37% in the United Kingdom and 42% in the United States. The proportion of patients who received preventive therapy only was 10% in Germany, 8% in the United Kingdom, and 12% in the United States.

The most commonly prescribed acute treatment, regardless of formulation, was sumatriptan. About 60% of patients received this medication. Less than one-third of patients used inhaled oxygen. Oxygen was prescribed more often in Germany (45%) and the United Kingdom (33%), compared with the United States (19%). U.S. patients face well-known obstacles in getting access to, and reimbursement for, oxygen, said Dr. Andrews. “That’s an area that deserves increased attention.” Zolmitriptan was the third most commonly prescribed acute medication.

Among prescriptions for sumatriptan, oral and injectable formulations were approximately equally common. Recommendations, however, indicate formulations with potentially fast onset of action. “The average duration of one of these attacks is between 15 and 180 minutes, so that certainly suggests that a formulation that gives you a faster onset of action might improve outcomes,” said Dr. Andrews. The use of injectable sumatriptan was lowest in the United States and highest in the United Kingdom.

“The most common decision regarding preventive treatment was [to give] no preventive treatment,” said Dr. Andrews. Verapamil was the most commonly prescribed preventive therapy (34% in Germany, 29% in the United States, and 25% in the United Kingdom), followed by topiramate, lithium, and valproate.


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