For many, finding relief is difficult.
But there is a new remedy on the way. It's a local company with a new twist on an old drug. And so far, the results are promising.
For most of her life, Gabriella Iacovetti of Center City has lived under a cloud, never knowing when a migraine might strike.
These days, the attacks can come 3 or 4 times a week, bringing her business and family life to a halt.
"I can the flashing lights, the aura, the pain, in minutes. No light, no noise. I kind of put my head under the cover," Gabriella says.
Like many migraine sufferers, Gabriella also gets nausea, which makes taking pills a problem.
Dr. Stephen Silberstein, head of Jefferson University Hospital's headache center says, "Patients with migraine have trouble with absorption, and during a migraine attack, it gets worse. They will tell you - food hangs in my stomach, I'm sick to my stomach."
Dr. Silberstein says up of half of all migraine sufferers get frequent nausea. Of every 10 patients who start on the triptan class of drugs, only 1 or 2 stay on them.
And even when Gabriella CAN swallow a pill, it often takes several doses to feel relief.
On a visit to her doctor at the Jefferson Headache Center , Gabriella's doctor told her about a new option now being tested. It's called the Zelrix patch.
It uses sumatriptan or Imitrex. It's one of the most commonly used migraine medications - but it comes in a unique new patch.
Imitrex wouldn't normally be absorbed through the skin, so the makers of Zelrix found a way to make it happen.
It uses a tiny computer processor that generates a micro-current of electricity to push it through the pores.
It is the same kind of technology used in musical greeting cards.
Jane Hollingsworth, the C-E-O of NuPathe, Inc., says, "What's different is our program - instead of a song, you get a specific program about how much current it delivers over time."
Hollingsworth is the C-E-O of the Conshohocken company developing Zelrix.
She understands migraines. She has suffered through them much of her adult life.
And she knows many migraine patients aren't happy with pills, nasal sprays, or injections, because they don't deliver consistent amounts. In addition, many just don't like injections themselves.
So her company is focused on finding something better.
"You put it on your skin as soon as you have the symptoms of a migraine. There's a little button to push, and that starts it. There's a blinking red light to tell you whether it's working or working or not, so you can see it," she describes it.
The patch delivers a controlled amount of medication for 4 hours, then it shuts off. There's no danger from the micro-current of electricity, and Hollingsworth says there's no bad side effects.
"We can drive the drug in quickly, we can control it, and we have it at just the right level, without side effects," she says.
Gabriella tried the new patch by enrolling in a double-blind clinical trial so patients weren't told whether they actually got the medication or dummy patches.
But she believes she got the real thing, and it worked.
"Within 2 hours, I got relief from the migraine - they were pretty much gone. The nausea was gone before that," she says.
During the latest trials, at the end of 2 hours, 53 per cent patients taking Zelrix had pain relief, compared to 29 per cent who were getting a placebo patch. And 84 per cent had relief from nausea, compared to 63 per cent on placebo. They also had significant improvements for light and sound sensitivity.
Dr. Silberstein says the patch could be a godsend to some patients, "Having a product like this - that you put on your arm, and bypasses your gut, is a breakthrough."
Tests are still underway, to check the patch for any skin irritation side effects.
Every patient in those trials will get the medication. For more information, contact the Jefferson Headache Center.
For more information on Zelrix, see Nupathe, Inc.
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