Retrospective chart review to assess the effectiveness of an institutional intravenous (IV) dihydroergotamine (DHE) therapy protocol for refractory migraine in the pediatric population.
Limited high-quality evidence exists to guide the approach to treatment of refractory migraine with IV DHE, particularly in the pediatric population. This study reviews our institutional experience in implementing an IV DHE protocol in children to identify areas for improvement. We specifically sought to determine whether the outcome differed at follow-up between children who completed the full course of DHE (8 or 9 doses) as specified in our institutional protocol and those who did not. In addition, given the limited Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments for chronic migraine (CM) in the pediatric population, re-evaluating the response rate in this group of patients was of particular interest.
A retrospective cohort based on a chart review of 159 consecutive pediatric patients who received IV DHE while inpatient at University of Virginia Children’s Hospital over a 9-year period (January 2011-January 2019) was identified. Patients were classified according to the International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition criteria as having CM, status migrainosus, or, in a small number of patients, Other headache with migrainous features. To investigate any benefit of completing the full course of DHE, patients were categorized as having completed the DHE protocol (“Protocol Complete” 8 or 9 doses) or not completing the protocol (“Protocol Incomplete” 50% relief, <50% relief, or no relief. Pain outcomes were analyzed with respect to DHE protocol complete status and headache classification.
A total of 159 patients were included in the analysis. The headache diagnosis was CM in 49% (78/159), status migrainosus in 44% (70/159), and Other headache with migrainous features in 7% (11/159). At discharge, 60% (96/159) of patients achieved headache freedom, and no statistically significant difference was found in relative change in headache among the CM, status migrainosus, and Other headache groups. Patients who completed the full 8 or 9 dose IV DHE protocol were more likely to have persistent headache at discharge, with a median pain score of 1.0 (IQR 0.0-4.0) compared to a score of 0.0 (IQR 0.0-1.0) in the DHE incomplete group (P < .001). No difference was found in pain relief outcomes at follow-up in the DHE protocol complete and DHE protocol incomplete groups.
Although limited by the absence of a control group, our data support repetitive IV DHE as an abortive therapy for pediatric patients with status migrainosus or CM, with no evidence of differential efficacy in these groups. A higher rate of headache at discharge in the DHE protocol complete group reflects in large part the common decision to discontinue treatment once headache freedom was achieved, resulting in nonresponders being more likely to complete the full course of DHE. In our cohort, there was no difference in pain relief at follow-up between patients who completed the full 8 or 9 doses of DHE and those that did not. Discontinuing DHE once the patient has achieved headache freedom would therefore achieve the therapeutic goal while shortening the hospital stay. To potentially impact longer term pain relief, incorporation of a comprehensive treatment approach into the IV DHE admission is of interest for future study and quality improvement initiatives.

© 2020 American Headache Society.