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Ground-breaking research looks at long-term headache relief in multiple sclerosis patients


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New research from Leeds Beckett University and the University of Catania in Italy has shown how a surgical procedure can lead to dramatic and sustained headache relief in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

Balloon venoplasty

Chronic headaches and migraines affect an estimated one billion people worldwide with most sufferers experiencing one or two attacks a month. Headaches can last between 4 and 72 hours and are a blight on the lives of those who suffer. Persistent severe headaches are a particular problem for MS patients, often debilitating especially when accompanied by chronic fatigue.

This study, which is published in PLOS ONE, examined the effect of a balloon venoplasty – inserting an inflatable balloon to widen veins and improve blood flow - on headache and fatigue in MS patients.

After carrying out the procedure on 286 MS patients, the research team found a dramatic and significant improvement in headache relief.

Previous studies have linked headaches with the obstruction of venous vessels in the cranium (the portion of the skull enclosing the brain). It has been found that MS patients have elevated intravenous pressure and that by performing balloon venoplasty on the veins in the neck it is possible to relieve the pressure and reduce headache severity.

Professor Clive Beggs, Professor of Applied Physiology at Leeds Beckett University’s Carnegie School of Sport, said: “Previous studies have clearly shown that headache is linked to elevated pressure in the venous system of the brain. By improving blood flow through the jugular veins, which drain the blood from the brain to the heart, the research team has been able to reduce the pressure within the sensitive cerebral veins, and it is this that we believe has resulted in the reduction in headache severity observed in the study.”

Professor Pierfrancesco Veroux, Professor of Vascular Surgery at the University of Catania and leader of the research team, said: “The results of the study are extremely promising and open the door to further research that has the potential to improve the quality of life of the millions of patients who currently suffer from headache with little relief.

“At Catania, we are involved in an ongoing programme of work evaluating and perfecting balloon venoplasty techniques, which we hope might benefit not only MS patients, but all those who suffer from venous related neurological disease. However, there is much that remains unknown and there is a need to develop new devices which can cope more effectively with all pathologies associated with venous disease.”

Professor Beggs added: “We are hopeful that these encouraging results will open the door to further advances that might improve the quality of life for the many millions who currently suffer from headache and migraine with little relief.”

The full research paper can be found at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0191534

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