Systematic review of outcomes and endpoints in acute migraine clinical trials

Carrie R. Houts, James S. McGinley, Tracy K. Nishida, Dawn C. Buse, R. J. Wirth, David W. Dodick, Peter J. Goadsby, Richard B. Lipton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background/Objective: To review the acute migraine clinical trial literature and provide a summary of the endpoints and outcomes used in such trials. Method: A systematic literature review, following a prespecified (but unregistered) protocol developed to adhere to recommendations of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses, was conducted to understand endpoints and outcomes used in acute migraine clinical trials. Predefined terms were searched in PubMed to locate clinical trials assessing acute migraine treatments. Final database search was conducted on October 28, 2019. Identified publications were reviewed against established inclusion and exclusion criteria to determine eligibility. Data related to general trial design characteristics, sample characteristics, and outcomes and endpoints reported in each publication were extracted from eligible publications. Descriptive summaries of design features, sample characteristics, and the endpoints and outcomes employed across publications were constructed. Outcomes are presented within four broad categories: (a) pain-related outcomes (pain relief, pain freedom, etc.), (b) associated symptoms (nausea, photophobia, etc.), (c) disability/impairment/impact, (d) patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs, general health and migraine/headache-specific). Endpoint types were categorized within three broad categories: (a) change from baseline, (b) fixed timepoint, and (c) responder definitions (e.g., 50% reduction). This review focuses on a subset of recent (1998 or later) randomized and blinded publications evaluating drugs or medical devices. Results: Of 1567 publications found through the initial search and reference section reviews, 705 met criteria and were included for data extraction. Inter-rater agreement kappas for the descriptive variables extracted had an average kappa estimate of 0.86. The more recent, randomized and blinded pharmaceutical and medical device article subset includes 451 publications (451/705, 63.9%). The outcomes and endpoints varied substantially across trials, ranging from pain relief or freedom, freedom from or relief of migraine-associated symptoms, use of acute or rescue medication, and various other PROMs, including measures of satisfaction and quality of life. Within the recent randomized and blinded article subset, most articles examined ≥1 pain-related outcome (430/451, 95.3%). Of the publications that examined pain, outcomes most often used were pain relief (310/430, 72.1%), pain freedom (279/430, 64.9%), and headache recurrence (202/43,051, 47.0%) or rescue medication use (278/430, 64.9%). Associated symptoms such as nausea, photophobia, and phonophobia were more frequently measured (299/451, 66.3%) compared to most bothersome associated symptom (16/451, 3.5%), as it is a new addition to regulatory guidance. Over one-third of eligible publications examined disability/impairment (186/451, 41.2%) or ≥1 PROM (159/451, 35.3%). The definition of the endpoints used (e.g., change from baseline, fixed timepoint comparisons, categorization of “responders” to treatment based on wide variety of “responder definitions”) also differed substantially across publications. Conclusion: Acute migraine clinical trials exhibit a large amount of variability in outcomes and endpoints used, in addition to the variability in how outcomes and endpoints were used from trial-to-trial. There were some common elements across trials that align with guidance from the International Headache Society, the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies (e.g., assessing pain and associated symptoms, 2-hour post-treatment). Other aspects of acute migraine clinical trial design did not follow guidance. For example, multi-item PROMs intended to measure constructs (e.g., scales) are rarely used, the use of pain-related outcomes is inconsistent, some associated symptom assessments are idiosyncratic, and the timing of the assessment of primary endpoints is variable. The development of a core set of outcomes and endpoints for acute migraine clinical trials that are patient-centered and statistically robust could improve the conduct of individual trials, facilitate cross-trial comparisons, and better support informed treatment decisions by healthcare professionals and patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-275
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • acute migraine
  • clinical outcome assessment
  • clinical trial design
  • endpoints
  • outcomes
  • patient-reported outcome measures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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