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Promising new migraine treatment may ease suffering


July 24, 1996
Web posted at: 1:40 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Jeff Levine

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Patty Alcala has suffered from the debilitating effects of migraine headaches since she was 10 years old, but a new type of nose drop has given her fast relief.

"In 15 seconds, my headache went away. And I told the doctor, 'I know this is the medicine,'" Alcala said.


The wonder drug? Lidocaine, a more potent version of the anesthetic contained in many burn creams.

Dr. Morris Maizels of Kaiser Permanente studied the effects of Lidocaine nose drops in about 80 migraine patients. The drops were compared with a dummy drug.

"Fifty-five percent of our patients, a little more than half, found their headache got better within fifteen minutes. Now, what's really remarkable about this drug is that they start to feel better within a minute," he said.

But the bad news is that the symptoms came back in about 40 percent of the headache sufferers.

There are also side effects, including some numbness in the nose and throat and a bitter aftertaste.

A cheaper alternative

Lidocaine is thought to work on migraines by numbing a nerve at the base of the nose. That nerve is suspected of triggering an inflammatory reaction in the brain.


Maizels concedes the drug Sumatriptan is still the gold standard for migraines, but he believes Lidocaine, which is less expensive, can do a good job for the one in five American women who suffers from migraines.

"Lidocaine, as we used it in the study, would cost about a nickel a treatment," he said.

But neurologists like David Buchholz of John Hopkins Hospital, say drugs like Lidocaine may send out the wrong message.

"My advice to chronic headache sufferers is: Don't be relying on quick fixes that you buy over the counter, at your pharmacy or that your physician prescribes. Talk to a knowledgeable headache specialist or neurologist to see how your headaches can be prevented," Buchholz said.

Maizels thinks there needs to be more research to see if Lidocaine really works. In the meantime, the drug is not approved for use in this form.

It is also not yet clear which patients will be best suited for Lidocaine.


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