Anyone who has had a migraine knows how disruptive they can be to every-day life. Not only are they painful to endure, but they can also mean missing work on a regular basis and interrupting family time. Migraines are throbbing headaches that quite often affect one side of the head and can cause disturbed vision, nausea and vomiting, and can be triggered by a wide range of factors.

However, recent scientific research has led to new knowledge about the complex chain of events that occur inside the brain during a migraine attack. Experts now understand that blocking the calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor (CGRP-R) plays a critical role in preventing the onset of a migraine, and the first CGRP-R blocking therapy, Aimovig (erenumab), was recently approved by Health Canada and is designed specifically to prevent migraines in adults who suffer from at least four migraine days per month.

“Over the last 30 years we’ve become more knowledgeable about the biology of migraines,” said Dr. Heather Pim, Associate Clinical Professor of Neurology at the University of Montreal, Director of the Headache Clinic at the U of M Hospital Centre, and President of Migraine Quebec. “The anti-CGRP-R stops that inflammation [that caused migraines], and it’s a treatment that the patient gives themself in the form of an injection once every four weeks.”

She said the results look very promising – 50 per cent of patients decreased their migraines by frequency and intensity, and one-third of them, known as “super-responders,” saw them diminish by 75-100 per cent.

However, access to this medication in Canada is difficult, as the waiting list in neurology for headaches can go past two years, Pim said. “That means more and more family doctors will become instrumental in administering this type of medication.”

Migraine awareness is crucial in ensuring that sufferers find a way of coping with and even combatting this debilitating ailment. After all, it’s the third most common illness in the world, affecting 3 million Canadians, with women being twice as susceptible. Seven million lost work days were reported in Canada due to migraines, and this number is likely under-reported.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lack of care among migraine sufferers, and some will suffer their whole lives,” Pim said. “The healthcare system as well as the general public have become more in tune with suffering. Suffering counts – it’s not just about neurological disorders that end in death. But migraines are such an overlooked problem.”

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