Breaking the chain of migraine pain

August 06, 1991|By Alyssa Gabbay

With the precise causes of migraine headaches still unclear, doctors aren't entirely sure how sumatriptan, manufactured by Glaxo Inc., a pharmaceutical company near Raleigh, N.C., works. But they think it corrects an imbalance of a messenger chemical in the brain called serotonin.

When the equilibrium of serotonin in the brain is disturbed, a chain of events is triggered which causes migraine pain, according to Dr. Howard Weiss, a Baltimore neurologist in private practice who specializes in headaches.

Apparently, sumatriptan stimulates a specific type of serotonin receptor in the brain that is related to migraine. It thereby restores the normal equilibrium of the chemical and relieves pain.

"It's like auto-regulation or biofeedback," said Dr. Weiss, of the action. "You're decreasing the action of serotonin in certain parts of the brain and increasing it in others."

Other migraine drugs, including the oft-prescribed ergotamine, are also thought to act on serotonin receptors, of which there are many types in the brain.

But sumatriptan is unique in its ability to stimulate solely the type of serotonin receptor which is related to the production of migraine. As a result, it avoids such side effects as muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, which sometimes result from use of the other drugs.

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