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Keywords:

  • propofol;
  • abortive treatment;
  • intractable migraine;
  • migrainous headache;
  • GABAA agonist

Objective.–To report the unique effectiveness of propofol, an intravenous anesthetic agent, in treating refractory migraines and other headaches in the setting of an outpatient headache center.

Background.–We initially observed the dramatic abolition of ongoing migraine in patients (n=6) being treated with propofol in preparation for epidural and other nerve blocks in the headache and pain clinic. The reduction of headache severity was virtually 100%. We decided to treat an additional cohort of patients with intravenous propofol in the headache clinic; these patients had intractable migraines that were refractory to the usual abortive treatments. Subanesthetic doses of propofol were employed in this study. This is the first known report of the utility of this agent specifically for the treatment of intractable headache.

Methods.–Seventy-seven patients were treated for intractable headache in the clinic with intravenous propofol, for both migraine and nonmigrainous headache refractory to the usual methods of abortive treatment.

Results.–The average reduction in headache intensity was 95.4% after an average of 20 to 30 minutes of intravenous propofol treatment, using a patient-rated visual analog scale of 0 to 10. Sixty-three of 77 patients reported complete abolition of their headache. The average dose of propofol was 110 mg, which is well within the usual range of preanesthetic doses and is clearly subanesthetic. Moreover, only three of the treated patients reported a return of the headache on the day following treatment.

The neuropharmacology of propofol and the putative multiple mechanisms of action upon various neurotransmitter systems in the brain, particularly gamma aminobutyric acid A receptor subtypes, are discussed to explain the results in our patients.

Conclusions.–The use of intravenous propofol may represent a new, rapid, and highly effective form of abortive headache treatment in the headache clinic or emergency room setting and may offer an alternative to other treatment modalities for acute migraine and other severe intractable headaches. The effectiveness of propofol raises many new questions about the pathophysiology of migraine and other headaches.