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Acad Emerg Med. 2008 Dec;15(12):1223-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00283.x. Epub 2008 Oct 25.

Does the addition of dexamethasone to standard therapy for acute migraine headache decrease the incidence of recurrent headache for patients treated in the emergency department? A meta-analysis and systematic review of the literature.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Alameda County Medical Center-Highland Hospital, Oakland, CA, USA.

Erratum in

  • Acad Emerg Med. 2009 May;16(5):435.



Neurogenic inflammation is thought to play a role in the development and perpetuation of migraine headache. The emergency department (ED) administration of dexamethasone in addition to standard antimigraine therapy has been used to decrease the incidence of recurrent headaches at 24 to 72 hours following evaluation. This systematic review details the completed trials that have evaluated the use of dexamethasone in this role.


The authors searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, LILACS, recent emergency medicine scientific abstracts, and several prepublication trial registries for potential investigations related to the research question. The authors included studies that incorporated randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled methodology and that were performed in the ED. A fixed-effects and random-effects model was used to obtain summary risk ratios (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for the self-reported outcome of moderate or severe headache on follow-up evaluation.


A pooled analysis of seven trials involving 742 patients suggests a modest but significant benefit when dexamethasone is added to standard antimigraine therapy to reduce the rate of patients with moderate or severe headache on 24- to 72-hour follow-up evaluation (RR = 0.87, 95% CI = 0.80 to 0.95; absolute risk reduction = 9.7%). The treatment of 1,000 patients with acute migraine headache using dexamethasone in addition to standard antimigraine therapy would be expected to prevent 97 patients from experiencing the outcome of moderate or severe headache at 24 to 72 hours after ED evaluation. The sensitivity analysis yielded similar results with sequential trial elimination, indicating that no single trial was responsible for the overall result. Adverse effects related to the administration of a single dose of dexamethasone were infrequent, mild, and transient.


These results suggest that dexamethasone is efficacious in preventing headache recurrence and safe when added to standard treatment for the management of acute migraine headache in the ED.

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