What’s New in Migraine Research?
I just returned from this year’s European Federation of Neurological Sciences meeting where thousands of neurologists from all over the world gather to discuss their latest research. It’s an exciting opportunity to hear about what’s new—usually months to a year before that same research will make it into medical journals.
Here’s a summary of some of the new research that was presented:
- Doctors believe that migraine occurs because the brain’s nerves are revved up to be extra-sensitive to pain and other signals. This is called central sensitization. The amount of central sensitization you have can be measured by recording the occurrence of allodynia during attacks. Examples of allodynia are things like your hair hurting with a migraine, or glasses or earrings hurting, or your skin feeling extra sensitive to touch or pressure. Dr. Baldacci from Italy reported that people who had more symptoms of allodynia usually were also more sensitive to migraine triggers. The most common trigger was stress. Stress, sleep deprivation, and weather changes were equally likely to be reported as triggers by people with moderate to severe allodynia and those with only mild or no allodynia. People with moderate to severe allodynia, however, were more likely to have migraine triggered by hormonal changes, fatigue, lights, smells, noise, cold, food, and alcohol. So if you experience a lot of allodynia symptoms, you may have to work harder to reduce the impact of potential migraine triggers.
- Dr. Jensen from Denmark investigated central sensitization in people with medication overuse headache. People who had been overusing medications were more sensitive to pain. Their pain threshold was about 20 percent lower than expected. After overused medications were discontinued, pain threshold returned to normal levels, showing that the central sensitization that occurs with medication overuse can be reversed by stopping excess medications.
- Dr. Ventura from Brazil investigated the relationship between regular exercise and recurring headaches in 285 students. Regular exercise was defined as exercising for 30 minutes at least 2 days per week. Recurring headache was almost twice as common in people who didn’t exercise regularly. Recurring headaches were reported by 38 percent of exercisers and 66 percent of non-exercisers. This effect was strongest in males.
- Dr. Libera from Italy reported successful migraine reduction using frontal repetitive transcranial stimulation. Patients had previously failed to respond to traditional migraine therapies. Twenty-two migraineurs were treated with stimulation for ten minutes, three times a week, for six weeks. Migraine frequency and severity decreased by half in 45 percent of people. Migraine decreased by 20 to 40 percent in 32 percent of people. And there were 23 percent without any benefit.
- Dr. Saeidi from Iran presented data from lavender oil used to treat migraine in 34 people. Two to three drops of the oil were placed above the upper lip and people were instructed to inhale vapors for 15 minutes during a migraine. Pain severity was measured using a zero (no pain) to ten (severe pain) scale. Pain decreased by 3.6 points after 2 hours among those who used lavender oil. Pain dropped by 1.6 points among treating with an inactive placebo.
- When tryptophan breaks down, it produces the compound kynurenic acid, which can affect the nervous system. Researchers showed that a kynurenic acid-like drug, called SZR-81, decreased central sensitization and inflammation in the trigeminal system rats. Because sensitization and inflammation of the trigeminal system is believed to be important for human migraine, this may suggest a possible new treatment.
- As we discuss in The Woman’s Migraine Toolkit, breastfeeding is important for the health of both the developing baby and new mother. Breastfeeding also delays the return on migraine in mothers who had decreased migraines during pregnancy. Dr. KneÅ¾eviÄ‡-Pogancev from Serbia studied the onset of migraine in almost 31,000 school children. Exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life delayed the onset of migraine in these children, with migraine occurring earlier among those breastfeed for only 4 or fewer months. Breastfeeding didn’t prevent migraine from occurring, but it did delay the onset.
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women. Dr. Ghorbani from Iran presented data linking migraine with a lower risk for breast cancer. A total of 325 people with breast cancer and 325 without breast cancer were investigated. Migraine without aura occurred in 11 percent with breast cancer and 13 percent without breast cancer. Migraine with aura occurred in 8 percent with breast cancer and 25 percent who were cancer-free.
These research studies may provide important advancements for better understanding why and how migraine occurs and new strategies for better treatments.