Migraine Treatment in Pregnant Women Presenting to Acute Care: A Retrospective Observational Study

Katherine T. Hamilton, Matthew S. Robbins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective: To assess the acute treatment of pregnant women presenting to a hospital with migraine. Background: Migraine is a common problem in pregnancy; however, migraine treatment is challenging in pregnant women for fears of medication teratogenicity and lack of data in this population. To date, no study has directly explored physician practices for treatment of acute migraine in pregnant women. Methods: We conducted a retrospective chart review of medication administration for pregnant women who presented to an acute care setting with a migraine attack and received neurology consultation between 2009 and 2014. Results: We identified 72 pregnant women with migraine who were treated with pain medications. Fifty-one percent (37/72) were in the third trimester of pregnancy, 39% (28/72) in the second trimester, and 10% (7/72) in the first trimester. Thirty-two percent (23/72) had not tried any acute medications at home before coming to the hospital, and 47% (34/72) presented in status migrainosus. Patients received treatment in the hospital for a median of 23 hours (interquartile range = 5–45 hours). The most common medications prescribed were metoclopramide in 74% (53/72) of patients (95% confidence interval [CI] 62–82%) and acetaminophen in 69% (50/72) of patients (95% CI 58–79%). Metoclopramide was administered along with diphenhydramine in 81% (44/53) of patients (95% CI 71–91%). Acetaminophen was the most frequent medicine administered first (53%, 38/72). Patients were often treated with butalbital (35%, 25/72) or opioids (30%, 22/72), which were used as second- or third-line treatments in 29% of patients (20/72). Thirty-eight percent (27/72) received an intravenous (IV) fluid bolus, 24% received IV magnesium (17/72), and 6% (4/72) had peripheral nerve blocks performed. Conclusions: While the majority of pregnant women with acute migraine received medications considered relatively safe in pregnancy, there was variation in treatment choice and sequence. Some acute medications considered potentially hazardous for fetal health and less effective for migraine (opioids and butalbital) were used frequently, whereas other treatments that may have low teratogenic risk (nerve blocks, IV fluid boluses, and triptans) were used less or not at all. These results indicate a need for developing guidelines and protocols to standardize acute treatment of migraine in pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-179
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019


  • acute
  • headache
  • medication
  • migraine
  • pregnancy
  • treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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