The blood pressure medication candesartan is just as effective as the more widely prescribed propranolol when it comes to preventing migraine attacks, according to new research at Norway’s St. Olavs Hospital and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
In a small study of 72 migraine sufferers, researchers found that candesartan may work for patients who get no relief from propranolol.
“This gives doctors more possibilities and we can help more people,” says Professor Lars Jacob Stovner, leader of Norwegian National Headache Centre.
AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) sells candesartan under the brand name Atacand. The drug was originally developed as a medication to treat high blood pressure until Harald Schrader, a retired professor from St. Olavs Hospital, discovered by chance in the 1990’s that candesartan also worked well for his own headaches.
Several studies have confirmed his findings and today candesartan is prescribed off-label by some doctors to treat migraine.
Propranolol is a beta-blocker marketed under the brand name Inderal. It is also used to treat high blood pressure, as well as migraine, angina and other heart or circulatory problems.
The new study is a follow-up to a 10-year-old study from NTNU. All 72 patients were affected by migraine attacks at least twice every month. They used each treatment (candesartan, propranolol or placebo) for 12 weeks, and also underwent four weeks between the treatment periods without any medication at all.
The study was a triple blind test, which means that neither patients nor doctors knew whether the patients had been given a placebo or real medicine.
More than 20 percent of the patients reported they felt better even when they were just given a placebo. But blind tests also showed that candesartan works preventively for another 20 to 30 percent of patients. The hope is now that candesartan will be even more commonly prescribed.
Candesartan is an angiotensin-inhibiting drug that keeps blood vessels from narrowing, which lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow. Patents on candesartan are expiring, which means more patients will have access to cheaper, generic forms of the medication.
Migraines are thought to affect a staggering one billion people worldwide. About 31 million adult Americans suffer from migraine. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound.