Comprehensive clinical phenotyping of nitroglycerin infusion induced cluster headache attacks

Diana Y. Wei, Peter J. Goadsby*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Nitroglycerin administration allows the study of cluster headache attacks in their entirety in a standardised way. Methods: A single-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study using weight-calculated intravenous nitroglycerin administration at 0.5 µg/kg/min over 20 minutes to study cluster headache attacks, including accompanying non-headache symptoms and cranial autonomic symptoms. Results: Thirty-three subjects with cluster headache were included in the study; 24 completed all three study visits. Nitroglycerin-induced attacks developed in 26 out of 33 subjects (79%) receiving unblinded nitroglycerin infusion, and in 19 out of 25 subjects (76%) receiving single-blinded nitroglycerin infusion, compared with one out of 24 subjects (4%) receiving single-blinded placebo infusion. Episodic cluster headache subjects had a shorter latency period to a nitroglycerin-induced attack compared to the chronic cluster headache (CCH) subjects (U = 15, z = −2.399, p = 0.016). Sixteen of nineteen episodic cluster headache (mean, 84%; 95% confidence interval, 66–100%) and 11 of 14 chronic cluster headache subjects developed a nitroglycerin-induced attack (79%, 54–100%) following the unblinded nitroglycerin infusion. Following the single-blinded nitroglycerin infusion, eight out of 13 episodic cluster headache (62%, 31–92%) and 11 out of 12 chronic cluster headache (92%, 73–100%) subjects developed nitroglycerin-induced attacks. Nitroglycerin induced non-headache symptoms in the majority of subjects receiving it: 91% in the open unblinded nitroglycerin visit and 84% in the single-blinded nitroglycerin visits, compared with 33% in the single-blinded placebo visit. Cranial autonomic symptoms were induced by nitroglycerin infusion, 94% in the open unblinded nitroglycerin visit and 84% in the single-blinded nitroglycerin visit, compared with 17% in the single-blinded placebo visit. Conclusion: Intravenous weight-adjusted nitroglycerin administration in both episodic cluster headache in bout and chronic cluster headache is effective and reliable in inducing cluster headache attacks, cranial autonomic symptoms and non-headache symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913-933
Number of pages21
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • chronic cluster headache
  • Cluster headache
  • cranial autonomic symptoms
  • episodic cluster headache
  • nitroglycerin
  • nitroglycerin headache
  • non-headache symptoms

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