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Rescue Therapy for Acute Migraine, Part 1: Triptans, Dihydroergotamine, and Magnesium


D. Tepper, Center for Headache and Pain C-21, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 9500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44195, USA, email:


Objective.— To review and analyze published reports on the acute treatment of migraine headache with triptans, dihydroergotamine (DHE), and magnesium in emergency department, urgent care, and headache clinic settings.

Methods.— MEDLINE was searched using the terms “migraine” and “emergency,” and “therapy” or “treatment.” Reports from emergency department and urgent care settings that involved all routes of medication delivery were included. Reports from headache clinic settings were included only if medications were delivered by a parenteral route.

Results.— Acute rescue treatment studies involving the triptans were available for injectable and nasal sumatriptan, as well as rizatriptan. Effectiveness varied widely, even when the pain-free and pain-relief statistics were evaluated separately. As these medications are known to work best early in the migraine, part of this variability may be attributed to the timing of triptan administration.

Multiple studies compared triptans with anti-emetics, dopamine antagonists, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The overall percentage of patients with pain relief after taking sumatriptan was roughly equivalent to that recorded with droperidol and prochlorperazine. Sumatriptan was equivalent to DHE when only paired comparisons were performed.

While the data extracted suggest that magnesium may be effective in treating all symptoms in patients experiencing migraine with aura across all migraine patients, its effectiveness seems to be limited to treating only photophobia and phonophobia.

Conclusions.— Although there are relatively few studies involving health-care provider-administered triptans or DHE for acute rescue, they appear to be equivalent to the dopamine antagonists for migraine pain relief. The relatively rare inclusion of a placebo arm and the frequent use of combination medications in active treatment arms complicate the comparison of single agents with each other.