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Blood Pressure Drug Appears to Prevent Migraines

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WebMD Health News

Jan. 5, 2000 -- Researcher Harald Schrader, MD, says serendipity played a large role in his decision to study a popular blood pressure drug as a preventive therapy for migraines. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology professor says he had suffered from crippling headaches for several years when he also was found to have high blood pressure.

"I was placed on [the blood pressure medication] lisinopril, and my headaches got better almost immediately," Schrader tells WebMD. "Soon after that, we gave the drug to a woman we were treating for disabling migraines who also had borderline high blood pressure. A few weeks later, we got a hand-written, four-page letter from her telling us that the treatment had given her a new life."

Schrader and colleagues now have more scientific evidence that lisinopril, which goes under various trade names such as Prinivil or Zestril and is among the class of high blood pressure medicines known as ACE inhibitors, really does prevent migraines. In the Jan. 6 issue of the British Medical Journal, they report that the therapy appears to work as well as other preventive agents with fewer side effects.

For a frequent migraine sufferer, reducing the number of agonizing headaches that occur each month could mean the difference between living a relatively normal life and living in constant pain or fear of pain. Several drugs or drug classes, including beta-blockers, which are used for heart problems and high blood pressure, and certain antiseizure drugs, have been shown to reduce migraine frequency in many patients, but side effects such as weight gain and sluggishness make them less than ideal for long-term use.

"At present, the preventive treatments for migraines are still rather unsatisfactory," former International Headache Society president Ninan T. Mathew, MD, tells WebMD. "We are still on the lookout for something that can be taken long term with reasonable results. From this point of view, this ACE inhibitor seems to be a reasonable choice." Mathew, who is director of the Houston Headache Clinic in Houston, Texas, reviewed the study for WebMD.

In this study, funded by one lisinopril manufacturer, AstraZeneca, Schrader and colleagues treated almost 50 patients with either lisinopril or a placebo for a 12-week period. They then switched the medications so that those formerly on the placebo received the active drug for a 12-week period and those formerly given lisinopril received the placebo. Participants were asked to record their total hours with headache, days with headache, and days with migraine in a diary. They also recorded which medicine they used to treat headaches and days they missed from work due to headaches.

In nearly a third of the patients, symptoms were reduced by half while on lisinopril. These patients also had fewer overall days with migraine.

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