Does THIS explain why women are more likely to suffer migraine?
Higher levels of oestrogen and other sex hormones are to blame for women suffering more migraines than men, reveal scientists
- Scientists were baffled as to why women are more vulnerable to migraine
- But a new Spanish review of medical literature finally offers hope of an answer
- Experts hope it could lead to a new route for personalised drugs for patients
More women suffer migraines than men due to their higher levels of oestrogen and other sex hormones, research suggests.
For years, scientists have been baffled as to why women are three times more likely to be struck down by the agonising condition.
But a new Spanish study finally offers hope of an answer – and could even lead to a new route for personalised drugs for patients.
Researchers reviewed decades of medical literature to suggest oestrogen may sensitize key cells to triggers of the agonising pain.
For years, scientists have been baffled as to why women are three times more likely to be struck down by the agonising condition
The team at Universitas Miguel Hernández in Elche delved into the links between sex hormones, migraine sensitivity and the cell responses to migraine triggers.
Their evidence, based on lab trials and animal studies, suggests sex hormones affect cells around the trigeminal nerve – responsible for pain perception.
Oestrogens – which are at their highest in levels in women of reproductive age – may sensitize these cells to migraine triggers, the researchers say.
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Other hormones – such as prolactin – appear to make migraines worse. While some, such as testosterone, were shown to protect against migraines.
They do this by making the cells’ ion channels, which control the cells’ reactions to outside stimuli, more or less vulnerable to triggers.
The pain of migraine
- Migraines are caused by a complex neurological condition which can affect the whole body – causing crippling headaches, nausea, blackouts, vomiting and even paralysis.
- Roughly 8.5million people in Britain suffer from migraines, three quarters of them women, with attacks lasting between four and 72 hours.
- Sufferers experience an average of 13 attacks each year, usually in clusters or episodes of a few days.
- But for about half a million people – those with ‘chronic migraines’ – the attacks come at least every other day.
- Migraines are the sixth most common cause of disability around the world, and are strongly linked to depression and work absenteeism.
- Current drugs include Triptans – which deal with the symptoms but not the cause – but if they are taken too often they actually increase the frequency of attacks.
- Other treatments which ward off attacks are all designed for other conditions – such as botox, epilepsy medicines and beta blockers for heart disease.
- The new drug works in a completely different way – attacking the cause of migraines by stopping a protein which causes blood vessels to swell in the brain.
Professor Antonio Ferrer-Montiel, who led the study, argued further research is needed on some hormones to confirm their role in migraine.
However, as a result of their review, oestrogen stands out as a primary candidate for understanding the prevalence of the agonising condition.
Oestrogen was first considered a trigger years ago, when scientists questioned why the condition is more common in menstruating women.
The new study now suggests oestrogen sensitize cells around the trigeminal nerve to stimuli. That makes it easier to trigger a migraine attack.
Professor Ferrer-Montiel argued the new research, published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, is only preliminary.
He said: ‘We can observe significant differences in our experimental migraine model between males and females.’
Professor Ferrer-Montiel added they were trying to understand the ‘complex process’ responsible for the gender difference.
He continued: ‘We believe that modulation of the trigeminovascular system by sex hormones plays an important role that has not been properly addressed.’
The researchers said that future studies should focus on the relationship between menstrual hormones and migraines in hope of better drugs.
The current work relies on in vitro and animal models, which Professor Ferrer-Montiel and colleagues said aren’t easy to translate to human migraine sufferers.
Professor Ferrer-Montiel said: ‘If successful, we will contribute to better personalised medicine for migraine therapy.’
The NHS says migraine strikes around one in every five women and around one in every 15 men.
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