Suboccipital steroid injections for transitional treatment of patients with more than two cluster headache attacks per day: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial

Lancet Neurol. 2011 Oct;10(10):891-7. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(11)70186-7. Epub 2011 Sep 6.


Background: Suboccipital steroid injections can be used for preventive treatment of cluster headache but few data are available for the efficacy of this approach in clinical trials. We aimed to assess efficacy and safety of repeated suboccipital injections with cortivazol compared with placebo as add-on therapy in patients having frequent daily attacks.

Methods: In our randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial at the Emergency Headache Centre in Paris, France, we enrolled adults aged 18-65 years with more than two cluster headache attacks per day. We randomly allocated patients to receive three suboccipital injections (48-72 h apart) of cortivazol 3·75 mg or placebo, as add-on treatment to oral verapamil in patients with episodic cluster headache and as add-on prophylaxis for those with chronic cluster headache, on the basis of a computer-generated list (blocks of four for each stratum). Injections were done by physicians who were aware of treatment allocation, but patients and the evaluating physician were masked to allocation. The primary outcome was reduction of the number of daily attacks to a mean of two or fewer in the 72 h period 2-4 days after the third injection. We assessed all patients who received at least one dose of study drug in the intention-to-treat analysis. This study is registered with, number NCT00804895.

Findings: Between November, 2008, and July, 2009, we randomly allocated 43 patients (15 with chronic and 28 with episodic cluster headache) to receive cortivazol or placebo. 20 of 21 patients who received cortivazol had a mean of two or fewer daily attacks after injections compared with 12 of 22 controls (odds ratio 14·5, 95% CI 1·8-116·9; p=0·012). Patients who received cortivazol also had fewer attacks (mean 10·6, 95% CI 1·4-19·9) in the first 15 days of study than did controls (30·3, 21·4-39·3; mean difference 19·7, 6·8-32·6; p=0·004). We noted no serious adverse events, and 32 (74%) of 43 patients had other adverse events (18 of 21 patients who received cortivazol and 14 of 22 controls; p=0·162); the most common adverse events were injection-site neck pain and non-cluster headache.

Interpretation: Suboccipital cortivazol injections can relieve cluster headaches rapidly in patients having frequent daily attacks, irrespective of type (chronic or episodic). Safety and tolerability need to be confirmed in larger studies.

Funding: None.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cluster Headache / drug therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occipital Lobe / drug effects
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology*
  • Pregnatrienes / therapeutic use*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vasodilator Agents / administration & dosage
  • Verapamil / administration & dosage
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Pregnatrienes
  • Vasodilator Agents
  • Verapamil
  • cortivazol

Associated data