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Suffering for a Cause: Why Danish Researchers Gave Patients Migraine Headaches

Science can be a real pain, in a good way. In a recent Danish study, scientists say they were thrilled to give painful migraine headaches to 86% of their study subjects.

Sound strange?

Really, it’s not.

Because migraines have been a painful mystery for ages — no one has been able to pinpoint a specific cause — scientists had to make their patients suffer in order to find out what was triggering their patients’ head pain. In the study, researchers triggered migraines using different mechanisms. The more successful they were, the more likely it is that the mechanism tested was an actual cause of the migraine.

In this case the 86% “success” rate, which the researchers say is much higher than results with other triggers, was owed to increases of a naturally occurring substance called cyclic AMP, or cAMP.

Our bodies use cAMP to dilate blood vessels, so an increase of it can increase the flow of blood. To see if cAMP might cause migraines, the researchers dosed their subjects with cilostazol, a drug that increases cAMP concentrations in the body.

Of the 14 study participants, 12 developed migraine headaches after taking cilostazol that gradually turned into a standard migraine attack. When given a placebo, only two of the 14 participants had migraines.

Because this was a very small study, the researchers and others will have to reproduce their results on a much larger scale before we can know that cAMP is a migraine culprit. But for now, let’s applaud the participants who suffered for a good cause and let scientists give them headaches in the name of science.

Are you in pain from headaches, migraines, or TMJ/TMD?

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