Doctors are using a new kind of drug to treat migraines, a chemical that directly affects the brain receptors thought to be responsible for these debilitating headaches. Migraines usually cause severe pain on one side of the head but are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting as well as neurological symptoms such as blurred vision or even partial paralysis.
Although several drugs sometimes work to ease the pain of the headache and others can quell the nausea, they do not address the cause: an abnormal dilation of blood vessels deep in the brain probably caused by a scarcity of a brain chemical, serotonin.
The new drug, called sumatriptan, is a relative of that chemical and seems to act by stimulating receptors that cause the wide open vessels to return to normal width.
In a study reported in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, 70 percent of patients treated with sumatriptan said their headache had eased significantly one hour after one shot under the skin, about the same as the success rate of drugs commonly in use.