Individuals experiencing ‘intense’ headaches can reduce extreme flare ups by self-injecting a drug most commonly used to help people with diabetes lose weight, research shows.
Scientists from the University of Birmingham have found that regular injections of exenatide can reduce blinding headaches caused by idiopathic intracranial hypertension by more than 30%.
Idiopathic intracranial hypertension occurs when high pressure around the brain causes symptoms like vision changes and headaches. In severe cases, idiopathic intracranial hypertension can cause blindness.
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The condition affects approximately 2,000 individuals in the United Kingdom (UK), health data shows.
According to the study, the number of people around the world with idiopathic intracranial hypertension has increased by more than 300% in the last 10 years, with the academics claiming that the significant rise is because of obesity.
First author Professor Alexandra Sinclair said: “Exenatide is the first medicine seen to have a strong effect.
“It works directly on the part of the brain that produces fluid, slowing its release and, as a result, reducing pressure.”
Although scientists are not 100% certain of what causes idiopathic intracranial hypertension, they do believe the condition is triggered by an imbalance of hormones that control the release of brain fluid.
Previous research also reveals that individuals with a higher BMI are more at risk of developing the condition.
Professor Sinclair noted: “The same hormonal problems that cause some people to be a higher weight could also be behind the condition.”
Idiopathic intracranial hypertension is traditionally treated with medications such as diuretics or water pills, however, 50% of people experience negative side effects.
During the 12-week clinical trial, seven adults living with idiopathic intracranial hypertension received a twice-daily injection of exenatide.
The researchers found that exenatide reduced the pressure in the brain and prevented the number of headaches by 36%. Improvements in sight were also detected, according to the academics.
Liz, 63, has lived with idiopathic intracranial hypertension for nearly 30 years. Since her late 30s she has suffered with headaches that felt as if her “head was being pulled off”.
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Five years ago, the 63-year-old participated in a clinical trial of exenatide where she had to self-inject the drug twice a day for 12 weeks.
She said: “For the first two weeks it made me feel rotten, but then the headaches subsided. Instead of four a week, it was one and far less intense. My sight didn’t improve but it stopped getting worse.
“When the trial ended, the sharp pain came back. People asked why I was taking an experimental drug and putting myself at risk.”
She added: “To me, it was a no-brainer. I want to help doctors help people like me, and clearly, this drug is helping.”