About 172,000 Taiwanese are plagued by migraines, with the condition more prevalent among women than men, statistics released by the National Health Insurance Administration has shown.
The condition is most prevalent among people aged 30 to 59, the statistics showed. Migraine is recognized by the WHO as a disabling disorder.
Migraines are the condition most commonly diagnosed by neurologists, said Lin Kao-chang (林高章), a neurologist at Tainan’s Chi Mei Medical Center and president of the Taiwan Headache Society.
Migraines are caused by an excessive release of calcitonin gene-related peptides (CGRPs) and can cause symptoms such as a throbbing pain in the head, nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light or noise, he said.
Symptoms can last from a few hours to three days, he added.
People with a persistent headache severe enough to disrupt daily activities and cause nausea or sensitivity to light should consult a doctor, Lin said.
Delayed diagnosis or excessive use of painkillers could turn episodic migraines into chronic migraines, which are more difficult to treat, he added.
Certain medications designed to prevent migraines need to be taken daily or twice a day and could produce side effects such as drowsiness and dizziness, Taipei Veterans General Hospital Neurological Institute director Wang Shuu-jiun (王署君) said.
However, there have been breakthroughs in migraine medication over the past few years, he said.
US and European regulators last year approved a new medication that requires lower dosages, with milder side effects, Wang said.
Studies have found that CGRP levels spike during migraine attacks, suggesting that drugs that block CGRPs have a better chance of preventing or reducing the intensity of migraine attacks, he said.
One such drug last year completed clinical trials in Taiwan, and trials for another have entered the final stage, Wang added.
Results of the former were similar to studies conducted abroad, in that most patients’ symptoms improved with no obvious side effects, he said.
Migraine patients in Taiwan would have access to the new drugs once the Food and Drug Administration approves applications from pharmaceutical companies, Wang added.
A study on migraines conducted by Taipei Veterans General Hospital in collaboration with National Chiao Tung University is expected to be published in an international journal soon, he said.
The study involved 40 people with migraines and 40 without, and found that changes in brain wave patterns could be used to predict migraine attacks with 78 percent accuracy, Wang said.
If migraine attacks could be predicted, people could take medication ahead of time and reduce the possibility of experiencing an attack, he said.
However, researchers need to make the brain wave detection devices more portable and practical before that can happen, Wang said.
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