Skip to main content /HEALTH with /HEALTH

New drugs for migraines studied

From Toria Tolley

(CNN) -- Kiva Schindler is one of the 28 million Americans who suffer from migraine headaches. As often as five times a week, she gets a pulsating feeling accompanied by pain, nausea and light and noise sensitivity.

When a migraine hits, her work and home life come to a halt.

"I usually have to get someone, my mother or my sister-in-law or somebody, to come and actually get my children ... because they are truly not something that you can just go on with your day to day routine," she said.

National Headache Foundation  

As a woman, she is far from alone. According to the National Headache Foundation, nearly one in five women suffer from migraine headaches, compared with about one in 20 men.

Why the difference?

Dr. Marshall Nash, a headache specialist and researcher, says there are several biological and environmental reasons why some women get more headaches than men. He points to "a genetic predisposition to have shifts in the chemical called serotonin," in the brain, which plays a role in pain and depression. Serotonin levels also change when estrogen levels drop.

Schindler has another possible explanation.

"I think that a lot if it is lifestyle. I think women have a lot more that they're expected to take care of and juggle."

Nash agrees that lifestyle can contribute.

"'Men work from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done.'... So there's a sleep deprivation that comes from just being a woman, having to take care of a family and their husband after their husband gets home from work even though they work during the day and that stress triggers migraines."

Many migraine patients depend on prescription drugs for relief, but more options could be on the horizon. Schindler is part of a clinical study headed by Nash to find a better drug to treat migraines.

In the past, virtually all migraine drug studies were conducted on men. Now, knowing the frequency and hormonal roots of women's headaches, researchers are focusing more on women and hope to develop medicines more suited to their specific needs.

"It's acceptable to take over-the-counter medications once a week but if you have severe headaches that are causing you to lose function, lose your ability to work, to disable you in some way, then medical treatment should be prescribed," advised Nash.

His clinical trial won't be finished for more than a year. After that, if the data show the new drug is safe and effective, it may be the answer for other women who, like Kiva Schindler, dread that next migraine.

• JAMA Migraine Information Center
• Migraine Awareness Group MAGNUM

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top