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Migraines in Kids Cured by Placebo, Not Drugs

First Posted: Jan 29, 2013 08:51 AM EST

Placebos may be more effective in children than actual medication when it comes to migraines. A new study published online in JAMA Pediatrics found that children receiving placebo had a significant decline in the amount of headaches per month-and that there were only two medications which were more effective.

Jeffrey Jackson and his colleagues consulted the data from 21 previous studies up to mid-2012. The studies were conducted on both boys and girls of age 18 and younger. Out of the 21 studies examined, 20 of them were to track migraines which occurred less than 15 times per month.  The one other study focused on migraines which occurred more than 15 times a month, also known as "chronic headaches."

After examining the studies, Jackson found that the only pharmacologic agents found to be more effective than placebo were topiramate (Topamax) and trazodone. Surprisingly, the placebos actually had an effect, reducing the amount of migraines to only three or, at maximum, six per month. Since a placebo is essentially a dummy pill made of sugar, in theory it shouldn't have an effect.

Although the studies also included other medications such as clonidine, flunarizine, pizotifen and propranolol, none of these other drugs were able to overcome the placebo's track record. In addition, the studies that the researchers analyzed contained little information about safety, though the drugs are widely used for other treatments and their overall safety profiles are familiar to clinicians.

This new research brings into question the effectiveness of giving children medication over a placebo-especially when the placebo seemed to be more successful than many of the other drugs. Since drugs can have other side effects, doctors should consider carefully before prescribing migraine medication to children.

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