A trial of metoclopramide vs sumatriptan for the emergency department treatment of migraines

Neurology. 2005 Feb 8;64(3):463-8. doi: 10.1212/01.WNL.0000150904.28131.DD.


Objective: To compare the efficacy of 20 mg of IV metoclopramide, given up to four times over 2 hours as needed for persistent headache, with 6 mg of subcutaneous sumatriptan for the emergency department treatment of migraine headaches.

Methods: This was a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial with two intervention arms. The primary endpoint was change in pain intensity as measured by an 11-point pain scale at 2 hours. Secondary endpoints included change in pain intensity at 24 hours and rates of pain-free headache relief at 2 and 24 hours.

Results: Two hundred two patients were screened, and 78 of 91 eligible patients were randomized. The two groups had comparable pain scores at baseline. By 2 hours, the change in pain intensity for the metoclopramide group was 7.2 compared with 6.3 for the sumatriptan group (95% CI for difference: -0.2 to 2.2). When compared at 24 hours, the metoclopramide group had improved by 6.1 compared with baseline and the sumatriptan group had improved by 5.0 (95% CI for difference: -0.6 to 2.8). At 2 hours, pain-free rates were 59% in the metoclopramide arm and 35% in the sumatriptan arm (95% CI for difference of 24%: 2 to 46%). The most common side effects at both time points were weakness, dizziness, and drowsiness, which were distributed evenly between the two groups. There were no reports of chest pain within the first 2 hours. The incidence of restlessness, stiffness, and abnormal movements was distributed equally between the two groups.

Conclusions: When compared at 2 and 24 hours, aggressive (20 mg dosed up to four times) IV metoclopramide and 6 mg of subcutaneous sumatriptan relieved migraine headache pain comparably. Some secondary endpoints suggest that metoclopramide may be the preferable therapy for migraines presenting to the emergency department.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Akathisia, Drug-Induced / etiology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Diphenhydramine / administration & dosage
  • Dizziness / chemically induced
  • Dopamine Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Dopamine Antagonists / adverse effects
  • Dopamine Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Flushing / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Injections, Subcutaneous
  • Male
  • Metoclopramide / administration & dosage
  • Metoclopramide / adverse effects
  • Metoclopramide / therapeutic use*
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / adverse effects
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Sumatriptan / administration & dosage
  • Sumatriptan / adverse effects
  • Sumatriptan / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Sumatriptan
  • Metoclopramide