Hope on the horizon for migraine sufferers

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A generation of anti-migraine drugs with fewer side effects than existing treatments could be available to sufferers within three years.

Scientists say a better understanding of how some people's brains over-react to stimuli has contributed to the development of the new drugs.

They say the drugs herald a new era in the management of migraine.

Migraine is thought to be a hereditary illness which affects three times more women than men.

There are estimated to be six million sufferers in Britain alone and the condition is caused by an "oversensitive" brain which reacts to triggers such as fatigue, hunger, stress or the weather, with a throbbing, one-sided headache, often accompanied by nausea and visual disturbances.

Most anti-migraine drugs currently in use carry a risk of side effects, such as drowsiness, weight gain and rashes and one in five patients who take Topiramate, one of the newest of the preventative drugs, experiences cognitive problems.

Even more of a concern is that drugs such as triptans constrict the blood vessels, thereby raising the risk of heart attack and stroke in vulnerable patients.

Patients then have to weigh up the benefits against the risks and although most decide they are willing to take a chance to relieve their misery, the drugs only work in about half of cases.

One of the new drugs is a rescue treatment known only at the moment as MK0974, which works by interrupting the sequence of chemical reactions in the brain that cause a migraine.

Research has shown that the brain releases the chemical calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) during a migraine and existing drugs, called triptans, of which the best known is sumatriptan, block the release of the chemical.

The new drug, known as a CGRP antagonist, blocks the uptake of the chemical by neighbouring nerve cells and final trial results are expected to be presented to the American Headache Society later this month.

They will show that MK0974 reduces pain and is better at preventing the return of the migraine over 24 hours than the existing triptan drugs.

Experts say MK0974 is very well tolerated, compares well with current treatments and is an important advance.

Migraine is thought to affect 15% of the population and the headaches can last for up to 72 hours, they tend to produce a throbbing sensation on one side of the head and can interfere with movement, cause nausea and vomiting and hyper-sensitivity to light and sound.

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