First published: 19 April 2016

Assessed as up ­to ­date: 3 February 2016

Editorial Group: Cochrane Pain, Palliative and Supportive Care Group

Migraine is a painful and debilitating disorder that is common in children (under 12 years of age) and adolescents (12 to 17 years of age). Common symptoms reported during a migraine attack are headache, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Many treatments for migraine are available, of which the most common are paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen), ibuprofen and other anti­inflammatories, and triptans. Not all triptan medications are approved for use in children or adolescents, and approvals vary from country to country.

In our review, we looked at 27 randomized controlled trials of drugs compared to placebo to find out which treatments were effective at providing pain freedom two hours after treatment. We also wanted to know what side effects might be caused by the treatments. A total of 7630 children received medication in the studies. The evidence is current to February 2016. Each study had between 13 and 888 participants. Their average age was 12.9 years and ranged from 8.2 to 14.7 years. Nineteen of the studies were funded by the drug manufacturer.

Ibuprofen appears to be effective in treating children with migraine, but the evidence is limited to only two small trials. Ibuprofen is readily available and inexpensive, making it an excellent first choice for migraine treatment. Paracetamol was not shown to be effective in providing pain freedom in children, but we only found one small study. Triptans are a type of medication designed specifically to treat migraine and are often effective at providing greater pain freedom in children and adolescents. The triptans examined in children included rizatriptan and sumatriptan, while almotriptan, eletriptan, naratriptan, rizatriptan, sumatriptan, and zolmitriptan were examined in adolescents. The combination of sumatriptan plus naproxen sodium is also effective at treating adolescents with migraine. Overall, there is a risk that the triptan medications may cause minor unwanted side effects like taste disturbance, nasal symptoms, dizziness, fatigue, low energy, nausea, or vomiting. The studies did not report any serious side effects.

Personal comment: There is no mention of Pramin, which has been shown to be effective in adults. Generally, in adults, my approach is Voltaren and Pramin, and this (anecdotally) has had a very high success rate. If this fails, I usually will give a dose of Morphine, which is also effective (in my personal experience). This is a huge meta­analysis yet the amount of useable data is small. This only reinforces the argument that every patient,  receiving medical care anywhere, should have their data collected in a way that will be appropriate for later review and meta­analysis.


The overall quality of the evidence provided by the review was moderate for the triptans, but low for paracetamol and ibuprofen, as we only identified a few studies. More studies need to look at the effects of each of the migraine treatments in children and adolescents separately.


Richer L, Billinghurst L, Linsdell MA, Russell K, Vandermeer B, Crumley ET, Durec T, Klassen TP, Hartling L. Drugs for the acute treatment of migraine in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD005220. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005220.pub2.