MONDAY, Sept. 20, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- The intravenous administration of aspirin appears to be a safe and effective way to treat hospitalized patients suffering from either severe headaches or migraines, new research indicates.
Study author Dr. Peter J. Goadsby, of the Headache Group in the department of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, described his team's findings in the Sept. 21 issue of Neurology.
"Intravenous aspirin is not readily available in the United States, and only on a 'named patient' basis in the United Kingdom," Goadsby noted in a news release from the American Academy of Neurology. The 'named patient' program is for those who have exhausted approved treatment options and do not qualify for a clinical trial.
Pointing out that use of intravenous (IV) aspirin is not uncommon in other parts of continental Europe, Goadsby added that his team's results "show it could be a cost-effective, safe and easy-to-use treatment for people hospitalized for headache or migraine."
To explore the IV aspirin treatment option, the study authors focused on 168 patients (including 117 women) between the ages of 18 and 75 who had been hospitalized for severe headaches or migraines. All were given 1 gram of aspirin via a drip, for an average of five doses.
Most of the patients had been diagnosed with a migraine, and almost all were also diagnosed with a "chronic daily headache," meaning that they had suffered from a headache for at least 15 days out of each of the prior three months.
All of the patients knew they were being treated with aspirin. And each study participant kept a pain diary during the process, rating pain on a 10-point scale ranging from mild to moderate to severe.
The researchers found that in more than 25 percent of the treatments, the IV aspirin caused pain to drop down a full category, namely from severe to moderate, moderate to mild, or mild to no headache.
About 40 percent of treatments had a "moderate effect" on participants' pain levels, the findings showed.
Side effects from the treatment included heartburn, nausea, vomiting, bleeding, worsening of asthma, kidney impairment and rash.
"Our findings warrant more research into the use of IV aspirin for severe headache or migraine," Goadsby stated in the news release.
Although Goadsby noted that prior research had similarly illustrated the apparent benefits of IV aspirin by comparing pain levels against a second pool of patients who did not get the treatment, Dr. Carl Stafstrom, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pointed out that the current effort did not do so.
"And certainly I would want to see this approach tested with such a 'control group' to make sure that the treatment is truly safe as well as effective," Stafstrom cautioned.
"But it's an encouraging response," he added. "And there's certainly a need for new and improved treatment modalities for acute headaches among hospitalized patients. So I would say that any new treatment is welcome. But this needs more exploration."
For more on migraine and headache treatment, visit the American Academy of Family Physicians.