Get access

Outpatient Intravenous Dihydroergotamine for Refractory Cluster Headache


Address all correspondence to Dr. Eric Magnoux, Montreal Migraine Clinic, Suite 330, 1575 Henri-Bourassa West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3M 3A9.


Objective.—To evaluate the efficacy and safety of outpatient intravenous dihydroergotamine (DHE) for treatment of refractory cluster headache.

Method.—Medical records were retrospectively reviewed of all patients with cluster headache who received outpatient intravenous DHE for treatment of refractory cluster headache between January 1992 and May 2000.

Results.—One hundred four treatments were identified in 70 patients. There were 7 dropouts. Of the 97 completed treatments, 60 were for episodic cluster headache and 37 were for chronic cluster headache. Results for all treatments showed complete resolution of pain during the intravenous phase at 1 month in 61 (63%) of 97 cases, partial resolution in 13 cases (15%), and failure in 23 cases (24%). For the treatment of episodic cluster headache, there was complete resolution in 44 (73%) of 60 cases, partial resolution in 9 cases (13%), and failure in 7 cases (12%). For treatment of chronic cluster headache, there was complete resolution in 17 (46%) of the 37 cases, partial resolution in 4 cases (11%), and 16 failures (43%). As regards side effects and safety, the treatment triggered chest pain suspected of being vasospastic angina in 1 patient on day 7 of the treatment, when she was in the subcutaneous phase. Two patients dropped out due to fear of the injection, 1 because of palpitations, 1 because of chest tightness, and 2 others because of leg cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.

Conclusions.—Outpatient intravenous DHE is a safe treatment. It is useful for refractory cluster headache, is more effective for the episodic form than the chronic form, and has a rapid onset of action. It did not change the evolution of the episodic form, but it did appear to induce remission in the chronic form or transform it to the episodic form. We advance a hypothesis to explain this.