New migraine drugs bring hope for sufferers
Neurology The misery of migraine is something one in 10 of us will have experienced first-hand. Thanks to new treatments, chronic sufferers will soon be better armed for staving off attacks.
Preventative migraine medication that tackles the underlying causes of the condition looks set to revolution treatment for chronic sufferers.
"Chronic sufferers will experience attacks around 15 times a month."
“Many of those with migraine are able to manage their condition with over-the-counter medication,’ says Dr Eddie O’Sullivan who heads the Migraine Clinic at Cork University Hospital. “Others will need triptans – medicines used to treat acute attacks that relieve pain within hours.”
For a smaller subgroup, the severity of their symptoms is exacerbated by the frequency of attacks. While a typical sufferer might expect up to two migraines a month, chronic sufferers will experience around 15 attack days within the same period.
The impact of chronic migrane
The impact of chronic migraine is staggering. The World Health Organization classifies the extreme form of the condition as more disabling than blindness or rheumatoid arthritis, while the Migraine Association of Ireland estimates the cost of migraine to the economy to be in the region of €252 million a year.
"For sufferers, functioning becomes difficult: they effectively shut down.”
Migraine symptoms include what O’Sullivan describes as “a throbbing or pounding headache that rates highly on the pain scale.” Frequently one-sided, the pain is often accompanied by vomiting and a sensitivity to light and noise. Around 20 per cent of sufferers also experience ‘aura’, which includes visual disturbances, or tingling and numbness, preceding the onset of pain.
“During an attack, most sufferers will need to lie down in a quiet room to alleviate their symptoms. Functioning becomes difficult,” says O’Sullivan. “They effectively shut down.”
New vs existing prevention
Existing preventative treatments can reduce the frequency of attacks by 50 per cent, although many chronic sufferers aren’t accessing their benefits. O’Sullivan explains: “All drugs being used for prophylaxis [preventative] treatments are drugs primarily used to treat other conditions such as anti-depressants, anti-convulsants and beta-blockers. The side-effects of those drugs means they can be hard to tolerate, leaving patients reluctant to take them on a daily basis.”With the development of new preventative treatments, all that looks about to change.
"The side-effects can be hard to tolerate."
The new, fast-acting drugs (called CGRP receptor antagonists) are the first to treat the underlying causes of migraine, according to O’Sullivan. They also come with fewer side effects and, because they’re administered in a single-shot injection, they’re popular with patients.
“Clinical tests on new preventative therapies have proved very effective, leading to a significant reduction in headache days per month,” says O’Sullivan, who describes the new treatments as ‘transformational’. “They will usher in a new era of migraine management,” he says.
The Migraine Association of Ireland is a nationwide charity providing support and services for people suffering from migraine.
We provide self-help courses and seminars with leading medical experts and complementary therapists. We also provide specialised training Health Professionals. Our Patient Helpline offers support and information and a Migraine Nurse Helpline for more comprehensive, medical professional advice.
We also promote awareness of migraine and the debilitating effect it has on sufferers and their families during Migraine Awareness Week which takes place every September.
Our current patron is the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.
Helpline: 1850 200 378