Haims: Newly approved drug could provide relief to migraine sufferers (column)

Judson Haims
Special to the Daily

Migraines are not the same as headaches. While a headache may hurt, a migraine can cause indescribable pain and frequently be incapacitating.

Of the many different types of headaches, the most common are sinus, tension, medication overuse, caffeine, menstrual, head injury and, of course, the hangover. Most of the time, such headaches are short in duration and do not cause the pulsing or throbbing pain, nausea, visual symptoms and neck pain that are common with migraines.

For those who suffer from migraines, a recent announcement from the Food & Drug Administration of a newly approved drug that may offer relief is exciting.

Aimovig Aims High

Aimovig is a synthetic antibody produced by the biopharmaceutical company Amgen. An antibody is a protein produced by the body’s immune system that protects us from harmful invaders such as bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses.

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Similar to the antibodies our immune system makes to attack viruses and other intruders, this antibody was specifically designed to attach to receptors in our body that interact with a protein called the calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor, or CGRP-R. Peptides are short chains of amino acids — usually between two and 50 amino acids — whereas proteins are made up of 50 or more amino acids.

This is the first FDA-approved medicine to block CGRP-R. Unfortunately, it comes with a big price tag: $575 per injection, with an injection generally needed each month.

The pain of a migraine occurs because CGRP is released and binds to the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation in the face and motor functions such as biting and chewing. As our brain does not have the ability to feel pain, the trigeminal nerve passes the sensation of pain on the brain’s behalf. So while blood vessel dilation does occur with migraines, the dilation is not the cause of pain.

Aimovig’s success is based on the belief that the medication will block CGRP from its receptors and thereby keep pain at bay. Further research may find that CGRP-blocking antibodies can also prevent other pain-related issues.

According to Michael Moskowitz, a migraine researcher at Harvard University, “If CGRP fulfills its promise as a blockbuster pain target, that success could signal to drug developers that effective treatments for other complex and seemingly intractable pain disorders, such as fibromyalgia, are also within reach.”

This new medicine does not claim to eliminate migraines, but it has proven effective in reducing the frequency and duration of the symptoms. At this time, Aimovig’s pros seem to outweigh the cons. However, there is concern about the side effects of blocking CGRP receptors, including pulmonary, cardiological and wound healing.

Other Migraine Treatments

Other migraine treatments currently available also have side effects, so there are no silver bullets for those afflicted with migraines. Education and a willingness to try a variety of treatment options may prove beneficial for many people.

Some known therapeutic treatments include acupuncture, massage therapy, biofeedback and dietary changes. Herbs and vitamins have also shown to be helpful and often have few, if any, side effects. Feverfew, buckwheat, flaxseed, magnesium mallet, CoQ10 and melatonin have been found beneficial in reducing headache pain.

While some people are predisposed to headaches and migraines, having some knowledge of common triggers could be beneficial. Common triggers include diet (aged cheeses, salty foods, MSG, aspartame, nitrates, nitrites), alcohol (especially wine and highly caffeinated beverages), skipping meals, hormonal changes, menstrual cycle, changes in the weather, inadequate sleep and stress.

If you suffer from frequent headaches and/or migraines and think you may be a candidate for this new type of migraine medication, then you should talk with your doctor, neurologist or headache specialist. He or she can assist and educate you about the options that are best suited to your personal needs.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit

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