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Headache. 2016 May;56(5):841-848. doi: 10.1111/head.12804. Epub 2016 Apr 8.

A retrospective analysis of triptan and dhe use for basilar and hemiplegic migraine.

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Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, John R. Graham Headache Center, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Neurology, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, Braintree, MA, USA.
Division of Neurology, Cambridge Health Alliance, Cambridge, MA.
Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.
Division of Pulmonary, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Critical Care, Sleep & Allergy, Omaha, NE, USA.
Department of Neurology, University of California San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA.
Department of Neurology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, USA.
North Suffolk Neurology, P.C, Port Jefferson, NY, USA.
Abington Headache Center, Abington Memorial Hospital, Abington, PA, USA.
Abington Neurological Associates, Willow Grove, PA, USA.



Patients with basilar migraine (BM) and hemiplegic migraine (HM) have been excluded from triptan and DHE clinical trials due to a potential risk of ischemic vascular events, and the FDA mandates that package labeling state that they are contraindicated in BM and HM. The objective of this study was to demonstrate that triptans and DHE can be used for the abortive treatment of BM and HM without significant adverse ischemic vascular events.


A retrospective chart review of patients with BM features or HM who received acute abortive treatment with either triptans or DHE was conducted at 4 headache centers to assess the frequency of ischemic vascular events after administration. The diagnoses of BM or HM were made by headache specialists based on The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd edition (ICHD-II). Searchable terms included BM, vertigo, dysarthria, diplopia, hemiplegia/hemiparesis, facial droop, weakness, confusion, altered consciousness, confusion, ataxia, and aphasia, as well as all triptans or DHE.


The study included 67 patients with BM features and 13 patients with HM. Among those receiving triptans, 40 were in the BM group and 5 were in the HM group. Among those receiving DHE, 27 were included in the BM group and 8 were in the HM group. No side effects of stroke or myocardial infarction were reported. In the triptan group, 5 patients reported adverse effects that included GI upset, rash, neck dystonia, nightmares, and flushing. In the DHE group, 5 patients had adverse events that included chest tightness, dystonic reaction, transient asymptomatic anterior T wave inversion, and agitation.


In this retrospective study, triptans and DHE were used with no reported, subsequent acute/subacute ischemic vascular events for the abortive treatment of migraines with basilar and hemiplegic-type features. Although the small sample sizes generated theoretical statistical event rates of 4.5% for BM and 23% for HM, there has been no clear evidence that BM and HM carry an actual elevated risk for vascular events compared with migraine with aura.


basilar migraine; dihydroergotamine (DHE); hemiplegic migraine; migraine with brainstem aura; triptan


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