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CJEM. 2006 Nov;8(6):393-400.

Intravenous dexamethasone to prevent the recurrence of benign headache after discharge from the emergency department: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas 78234-6200, USA.



To evaluate whether the addition of intravenous (i.v.) dexamethasone to standard emergency department (ED) benign headache therapy would reduce the incidence of headache recurrence at 48-72 hours.


This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of adult patients presenting with the chief complaint of headache was conducted in the ED of 2 academic, urban Level 1 hospitals. Headache evaluation and therapy were determined by the treating physician, and, before discharge, patients were administered either 10 mg of IV dexamethasone or placebo. The treatment groups had similar baseline characteristics, abortive therapy, IV fluids and degree of pain relief achieved before discharge. Patients were contacted 48-72 hours following discharge and asked whether their headache was "better," "worse" or "remained unchanged" when compared with their symptoms at discharge. Those whose headaches were "worse" or "unchanged," and those who reported a return of headache after being pain free at discharge were considered to be treatment failures and classified as having had a recurrence. The patient's headache at follow-up was further categorized as severe (i.e., provoking another physician visit or interfering with daily activity) or mild (i.e., requiring self-medication or no treatment).


Fifty-seven patients met the inclusion criteria and 2 were lost to follow-up, leaving 55 for analysis. At follow-up, 9.7% (3/31) of those receiving dexamethasone had headache recurrence, versus 58.3% (14/24) of those receiving placebo (p < 0.001). Four dexamethasone recipients (12.9%) had severe headaches at follow-up compared with 8 (33.3%) in the placebo group (p = 0.14).


In this study, IV dexamethasone reduced headache recurrence at 48-72-hour follow-up. Given its excellent safety profile and likely benefit, IV dexamethasone should be considered for ED headache patients after standard evaluation and therapy.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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