Nefazodone for Chronic Daily Headache Prophylaxis: An Open-Label Study


Address all correspondence to Dr. Joel R. Saper, Michigan Head-Pain and Neurological Institute, 3120 Professional Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48104.


Objective.—To assess effectiveness, tolerability, and safety of nefazodone as a prophylactic agent for chronic daily headache.

Background.—Nefazodone is a potent, selective 5-HT2 antagonist with a distinct and atypical mechanism of action. The evolution of intermittent migraine to chronic daily headache has been linked to up-regulation of 5-HT2 receptors as well as other factors. Other effective migraine prophylactic medications are also 5-HT2 antagonists. Although research has shown nefazodone to be an effective antidepressant with a good tolerability and safety profile, its potential role in headache prophylaxis has not been tested.

Design.—This was a two-center, open-label study with a 4-week baseline, followed by 12 weeks of treatment with nefazodone at a median dose of 300 mg (mean, 303.66 ± 65.57 mg; range, 100 to 450 mg depending on tolerability). Potential patients were required to report more than 15 days of headache per month for at least 3 months prior to screening. Only patients with at least 15 days of recorded headache during baseline were included in the final sample (N=52). Most patients (n=48) had a history of migraine based on International Headache Society criteria; 4 had primarily chronic tension-type headache, but with more migrainous features than permitted by International Headache Society criteria for a primary chronic tension-type headache diagnosis.

Results.—Significant improvement was demonstrated for all headache diary measures, with significance levels ranging from P<.00001 for average intensity, duration, headache index (intensity × duration), peak intensity, headache days per week, and peak impairment, to P<.0033 for severe headache days per week, and P<.0051 for rescue medication days. During the last month of treatment, 71% of the patients completing the study showed at least a 50% reduction in headache index compared to baseline, and 59% had at least a 75% improvement.

Visual analog scales completed at 4-week intervals showed significant improvement in patient ratings of overall headache status, quality of life, sleep, mood (P<.00001), and sexual function (P<.00053). Significant improvements were also observed in the Pain Disability Index (P<.00007), Beck Depression Inventory-II (P<.00001), Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (P<.0008), and Hamilton Psychiatric Rating Scale for Anxiety (P<.00007). Headache indices for patients in the top quartile on the depression and anxiety scales (clinical depression/anxiety) did not differ from the other patients during baseline. However, patients who were depressed or anxious showed significantly more improvement over the course of 12 weeks of treatment (P<.0006 or less for the depression scales, P<.026 for anxiety).

Common mild to moderate adverse events reported by 10% or more of the patients included fatigue, nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, sleep disturbance, blurred vision, irritability/nervousness, and sedation. Only 5 of the 52 patients discontinued the study due to adverse events: headache (2 patients), and nausea, sleep disturbance, and a drugged feeling (1 patient each).

Conclusions.—These results provide preliminary support for the efficacy of nefazodone in the prophylaxis of chronic daily headache. In this sample, nefazodone was safe and generally well tolerated. Patient ratings of sexual function improved over the course of treatment, in contrast to what is generally observed with most antidepressants. Nefazodone may be particularly beneficial for patients with chronic daily headache and comorbid depression. Further research is indicated.