Acute Treatment Therapies for Pediatric Migraine: A Qualitative Systematic Review

Headache. 2016 Jan;56(1):49-70. doi: 10.1111/head.12746.


Objective: We sought to conduct a qualitative systematic review to evaluate the safety and efficacy of available treatments for pediatric patients with migraine or benign primary headache in the emergency department, in an effort to inform future practice.

Methods: Scopus, Medline, and PubMed databases were searched for randomized controlled trials retrospective reviews, review articles, and case studies discussing migraine or benign primary headache management that were conducted in the emergency room or outpatient acute care setting in pediatric patients (less than 18-years old). Meeting abstracts and cited references within articles were also evaluated. Multiple variables were recorded, including type of treatment, study design, dosing, primary outcome, and side effects. Therapeutic gain was calculated in studies with a placebo arm. Treatments were subjectively assessed based on methodology and number of trials for a particular therapy.

Results: Thirty-one studies were included in the final analysis. Of these, 17 were randomized controlled trials, 9 were retrospective reviews, and 5 were prospective chart review studies. One pertained to IV fluids, 2 to nonspecific analgesic use, 5 to dopamine receptor antagonists, 2 to valproic acid, 1 to propofol, 1 to magnesium, 1 to bupivicaine, 13 to triptan medications, and 3 to dihydroergotamine (DHE). Treatments considered effective for acute migraine or benign primary headache in the analgesic category include ibuprofen, and to a lesser degree acetaminophen. Ketorolac was not compared to other NSAIDs, but was found to be less effective than prochlorperazine. Of the phenothiazines, prochlorperazine was considered most effective. Of the triptan medications, almotriptan, rizatriptan, zolmitriptan nasal spray, sumatriptan nasal spray, and combination sumatriptan/naproxen are effective agents for acute treatment. Treatments considered probably effective included IV fluids, chlorpromazine, valproate sodium, injectable sumatriptan, and IV DHE. Treatments with oral zolmitriptan showed inconsistent results, while treatments considered ineffective included isolated oral sumatriptan and oral DHE. There is insufficient evidence to comment on propofol, magnesium, and bupivicaine efficacy.

Conclusions: Of the available evidence, ibuprofen, prochlorperazine, and certain triptan medications are the most effective and safe agents for acute management of migraine and other benign headache disorders in the pediatric population. Additional studies in this population are needed, and should take into consideration variables such as dosing, co-administered medications, treatment duration, and length of treatment effect.

Keywords: acute pediatric migraine; emergency room headache treatment; pediatric headache.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / therapy*
  • Pediatrics*
  • Treatment Outcome*