Page last updated at 00:49 GMT, Wednesday, 14 April 2010 01:49 UK

Aspirin can reduce migraine symptom pain, review says

Some aspirin pills and a glass of water
Many migraine sufferers choose to use over the counter medicines

Taking aspirin can reduce the pain of a migraine headache within two hours for over 50% of people, research says.

The results come from a Cochrane Systematic Review using data from 13 studies.

Researchers found that a high dose of aspirin also reduces nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light or sound - other symptoms of a migraine.

But experts stress aspirin can cause side effects and some people will still need to rely on migraine medication.

Pain relief

In the review, which looked at the data from 4,222 participants, researchers found that severe or moderate migraine headache pain was completely relieved in one in four people.

This happens within two hours, by taking a single dose of 900-1,000mg aspirin alone (a standard tablet is 300mg).

In comparison, one in 10 had complete pain relief taking placebo.

And for one in two people, the headache pain was reduced to no worse than mild pain, compared to one in three taking placebo.

Researchers also found that a combination of aspirin plus an anti-emetic, which stops people feeling sick, was particularly good at reducing the migraine symptoms of nausea and vomiting. However, it did not produce any greater pain relief.

Migraine sufferers should consult their GP to get a firm diagnosis of their headache even if over the counter medication is effective
Wendy Thomas, The Migraine Trust

Co-author of the study, Sheena Derry, who works in pain research at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, said the use of aspirin would not be an effective therapy for everyone with acute migraine attacks.

"This is largely down to genetic differences," she said. "Different people respond to different drugs in different ways, and at different times."

Researchers say that further studies are needed to establish the effectiveness of aspirin compared with other drugs.

Firm diagnosis

"We are currently doing reviews of how paracetamol and ibuprofen impact on migraines," Ms Derry added.

Taking aspirin resulted in only a small increase in mostly mild side effects in the participants in the studies.

However the authors said: "While short-term use of aspirin probably does not pose a large problem the potential for gastrointestinal harm with long-term use is well documented."

Wendy Thomas, chief executive of The Migraine Trust, said the first stop for migraine sufferers should always be their GP, "to get a firm diagnosis of their headache even if they find over the counter medication to be effective".

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