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Milrinone for refractory cerebral vasospasm with delayed cerebral ischemia

Yasser B. Abulhasan, Johanna Ortiz Jimenez, Jeanne Teitelbaum, Gabrielle Simoneau, and Mark R. Angle


Intravenous (IV) milrinone is a promising option for the treatment of cerebral vasospasm with delayed cerebral ischemia (DCI) after aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (aSAH). However, data remain limited on the efficacy of treating cases that are refractory to standard therapy with IV milrinone. The aim of this study was to determine predictors of refractory vasospasm/DCI despite treatment with IV milrinone, and to analyze the outcome of rescue therapy with intraarterial (IA) milrinone and/or mechanical angioplasty.


The authors conducted a retrospective cohort study of all patients with aSAH admitted between 2010 and 2016 to the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. Patients were stratified into 3 groups: no DCI, standard therapy, and rescue therapy. The primary outcome was frequency of DCI-related cerebral infarction identified on neuroimaging before hospital discharge. Secondary outcomes included functional outcome reported as modified Rankin Scale (mRS) score, and segment reversal of refractory vasospasm.


The cohort included 322 patients: 212 in the no DCI group, 89 in the standard therapy group, and 21 in the rescue therapy group. Approximately half (52%, 168/322) were admitted with poor-grade aSAH at treatment decision (World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies grade III–V). Among patients with DCI and imaging assessing severity of vasospasm, 62% (68/109) had moderate/severe radiological vasospasm on DCI presentation. Nineteen percent (21/110) of patients had refractory vasospasm/DCI and were treated with rescue therapy. Targeted rescue therapy with IA milrinone reversed 32% (29/91) of the refractory vasospastic vessels, and 76% (16/21) of those patients experienced significant improvement in their neurological status within 24 hours of initiating therapy. Moderate/severe radiological vasospasm independently predicted the need for rescue therapy (OR 27, 95% CI 8.01–112). Of patients with neuroimaging before discharge, 40% (112/277) had developed new cerebral infarcts, and only 21% (23/112) of these were vasospasm-related. Overall, 65% (204/314) of patients had a favorable functional outcome (mRS score 0–2) assessed at a median of 4 months (interquartile range 2–8 months) after aSAH, and there was no difference in functional outcome between the 3 groups (p = 0.512).


The aggressive use of milrinone was safe and effective based on this retrospective study cohort and is a promising therapy for the treatment of vasospasm/DCI after aSAH.