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The Journal of Headache and Pain

Official Journal of the "European Headache Federation" and of "Lifting The Burden - The Global Campaign against Headache"

The Journal of Headache and Pain Cover Image

Volume 16 Supplement 1

1st Joint ANIRCEF-SISC Congress

Open Access

O004. Refractory chronic cluster headache responding absolutely to indomethacin

  • Carlo Lisotto1Email author,
  • Federico Mainardi2,
  • Ferdinando Maggioni1 and
  • Giorgio Zanchin1
The Journal of Headache and Pain201516(Suppl 1):A96

Published: 28 September 2015


IndomethacinSumatriptanCluster HeadacheChronic Cluster HeadacheParoxysmal Hemicrania


Cluster Headache (CH) attacks typically respond to triptans, in particular to subcutaneous sumatriptan and/or to inhaled oxygen. These treatments are effective in most cases. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some CH patients may respond absolutely to indomethacin, as do patients with paroxysmal hemicrania (PH) and hemicrania continua (HC). We report the case of a male with refractory chronic CH, who responded both acutely and prophylactically to indomethacin.

Materials and methods

Following the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD-3 beta) criteria, we diagnosed chronic CH in a 72-year-old male, whose headaches started when he was 56. For the first 4 years CH was episodic and later became chronic, with short remission periods lasting less than 1 month. The pain was strictly left-sided and was accompanied by conjunctival injection, lacrimation and nasal congestion. During most of the attacks the patient felt restless and had pacing activity. The mean frequency of headaches was two per day, one often occurring at night during sleep, and their duration was about 20-30 minutes. MRI and Angio-MRI of the brain were within normal limits.


The patient's attacks did not respond to subcutaneous sumatripan and oxygen inhalation. Interestingly, the patient noticed that his headaches would promptly and completely subside by injecting 50 mg intramuscular indomethacin. The patient was previously treated prophylactically with verapamil, prednisone and lithium, reporting no benefit. Given the absolute response to acute parenteral indomethacin, the patient was commenced with preventive oral indomethacin at the dose of 50 mg, three times daily. He showed a complete response in 10 days after the start of treatment; a tapering of the dose consistently led to the relapse of headaches.


The clinical features and, to a certain extent, also the pathophysiology of both PH and HC, which respond in an absolute way to indomethacin, considerably overlap with those of CH. Indomethacin is largely considered to be ineffective in patients with CH, but a response to this drug is not contrary to the diagnostic criteria for CH[1]. Our case fulfils the ICHD-3 beta criteria for both chronic CH and also for probable chronic PH, lacking one criterion, i.e. frequency of attacks. The review of the literature suggests that indomethacin-responsive CH exists and that some cases may be misdiagnosed when one relies on therapeutic responsiveness to make a diagnosis. This seems to be particularly true for chronic CH, whose clinical characteristics may overlap with those of chronic PH[2].

Written informed consent to publication was obtained from the patient(s).

Authors’ Affiliations

Headache Centre, Department of Neurosciences, University of Padua, Padua, Italy
Headache Centre, Hospital of Venice, Venice, Italy


  1. Prakash S, Shah ND, Chavda BV: Cluster headache responsive to indomethacin: case reports and a critical review of the literature. Cephalalgia. 2010, 30: 975-982.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Buzzi MG, Formisano R: A patient with cluster headache responsive to indomethacin: any relationship with chronic paroxysmal hemicrania?. Cephalalgia. 2003, 23: 401-404. 10.1046/j.1468-2982.2003.00558.x.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar


© Lisotto et al. 2015

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


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