For migraine sufferers, there's a major downside to many of the medications used to treat the pain, but this research is offering hope that there's another option, without the harsh side effects.
Daniela Freda runs a migraine support group in San Francisco. Many of her fellow members suffer from headaches so debilitating, they're forced to turn to powerful medications.
"I'd say majority of the migraine patients in our group have used opiates and stronger medications because the truth is that their migraines not being controlled with standard medications," says Freda.
According to the national headache foundation, more than 20 percent of the nation's 29 million migraine suffers use medications containing opioids or barbiturates, both potentially addictive and debilitating.
"Those heavy-duty pain medications really knock people out. So once you know you need to take it, the rest of your day is gone," says Freda.
But now, a study published by a Bay Area researcher is suggesting that one of the most common medicines may be able to help many migraine sufferers.
The drug is aspirin, but not the kind you find on the drug store shelf. The high-dosage variety is administered in liquid form through an IV.
"Intravenous aspirin is not used anywhere in the U.S. as far as I understand it, apart from our center," says Peter Goadsby MB, the UCSF headache clinic director.
Goadsby's research team compared the results in more than 150 patients hospitalized for chronic headaches. He says two-thirds reported a significant decrease in pain, when given multiple doses of intravenous aspirin. Dr. Goadsby believes the treatment, which is now used routinely in Europe, offers several advantages.
"One, it works. There's good data to show it's effective. Second is you can give it in an intravenously and there's almost no side effects. And it's not sedating and not addicting," says Goadsby.
Critics point out the study did not look at whether IV aspirin administered in the early stages of a migraine could stop the pain from progressing. Still Daniela believes many migraine sufferers are looking for methods of controlling their pain without strong side effects.
"As a migraine sufferer, the biggest thing is that we want to live our lives," says Freda.
Intravenous aspirin currently costs about $7 a dose depending on the manufacturer. Alternative pain medications cost about three times that much.
Written and produced by Tim Didion