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Women ‘three times more prone to migraine’ than men

Migraines are three times more prevalent in women than in men, delegates at the European Pain Federation’s Biennial Congress in Valencia, Spain, were told.

In addition to the burden of migraine attacks, migraine is also a major cardiovascular risk factor, in particular for women, according to Dr Antoinette Maassen van den Brink, a leading researcher into the condition and an associate professor at the Erasmus University Medical Centre Department of Pharmacology in the Netherlands.

“Current anti-migraine drugs do not take gender differences into account, such as changing hormone levels,” said Dr Maassen van den Brink, who has been studying migraine for more than 20 years, with a recent emphasis on the role of female sex hormones in the disease’s neurovascular pharmacology. “Future research needs to focus on the efficacy and safety of anti-migraine drugs in women.”

She said many women don’t go to a doctor when they get a migraine because they know their mother, or sister or aunt, had one every month. “And when their older female relatives went to the doctor, they didn’t get any help, so they don’t bother going. But imagine a girl hitting puberty at the age of 12, who then has migraines every month until she is around 50 and each month spends two-to-three days in a dark room in awful pain and vomiting — she’ll lose a total of four-to-five years of her entire life being severely ill.”

Meanwhile, a separate presentation highlighted how unlocking the secrets of how genetic variation affects perception of pain could lead to personalised medicines

Gene studies have revealed that about half of our sensitivity to pain is determined by our genetic makeup, with key differences caused by variant forms of individual genes, delegates at the European Pain Federation’s biennial Congress in Valencia, Spain, were told.

Prof Luda Diatchenko, from the Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain in Montreal, Canada, explained how the results of genetic studies are used to develop new drugs for chronic pain.

Her lab investigates the psychological, molecular, cellular, and genetic pathways that mediate both acute and persistent pain states, and its primary goal is to identify the critical elements of human genetic variability contributing to pain sensitivity and pathophysiological pain states that will enable individualised treatments and therapies. 

“My aim is to personalise pain diagnosis and treatment by unlocking the secrets of how specific variations in genes affect an individual’s pain perception and sensitivity,” Prof  Diatchenko explained.

“Why, for example, does one person with minimal tissue damage from arthritis suffer debilitating chronic pain, while another patient with major damage reports very little pain? If we can discover the molecular and cellular events that lead humans to develop chronic pain, then we can develop and prescribe medicines that fit the genetic and molecular pain profile of individual patients more precisely,” she said.

Prof Diatchenko added that “when comparing whole genomes, there is significant correlation between the hereditary information encoded in both mouse and human DNA. This means that using animal models to study human pain genomics is extremely valuable.”

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