'Migraine can be lonely and debilitating but new drug gives me hope'

Health Correspondent Helen Ford went to meet Matt Smith, who has suffered from migraines since he was 16

A man who has suffered debilitating migraine attacks for 20 years has welcomed the approval of a new drug, dedicated specifically to deal with the condition.

Matt Smith, from North Tyneside, told ITV Tyne Tees he had given up on getting medication - which is often intended for other conditions - for his migraine attacks, due to severe side effects.

For Matt, his migraines have at times been so bad he lost vision in both eyes, and recovery took up to a week due to slow-to-subside facial pain.

A new treatment, which could become available on the NHS, could be a light at the end of the tunnel for the 35-year-old.

The new drug Atogepant - sold under the brand name Aquipta and made by AbbVie - has been given the green light for NHS use under new final draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

The once-a-day tablet could only be prescribed by specialists and for people who have unsuccessfully tried at least three other treatments for migraines.

Matt, who has suffered from migraine attacks since he was 16, described the condition as a "continuous grind".

"It's quite a debilitating condition and a lonely condition," he said. "It's something that is always there and is always in the background and as you go through trying to live your life...it gives you almost a constant battle with yourself in terms of being able to function at a level that you would like to."

Matt's attacks peaked during the pandemic, when he was experiencing them for up to 20 days a month.

He tried several treatments but - because some were originally intended for other conditions - he found the side effects debilitating.

He added: "Throughout, obviously the number of years, I've tried a number of different things the GP has offered and you almost feel like a bit like a lab rat in terms of being able to understand how it would work for you to the point where, late twenties, I just gave up in terms of medication."

About 10 million adults in the UK are thought to have experienced or live with migraine, with about one in five woman and one in twelve men affected.

The condition can be severe and can impact sufferers' ability to work, socialise and care for dependents, and can take a toll on their mental health.

The new treatment would only be available to people who have at least four migraine days each month and have tried at least three other treatments - offering a new choice for an estimated 170,000 patients in England.

Matt said: "It would give people hope in terms of having something specific for the condition. It's meant to tackle symptoms and causes people have.

"People do struggle with this daily. There's no scope to be able to say I can't work for that many hours or days in a week. A lot of people have to grin and bear it. it's quite well hidden - you can struggle in silence.

"If it can help people live in a bit more comfort and not having severe pain that's fantastic."

Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison resigned as a minister due to chronic migraine. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Rob Music, from the Migraine Trust, said: "For too many years, migraine has been very much left to the one side and not taken seriously.

"We are seeing changes now. That's great. So great there's a new treatment but it's only great if the people who need it, who deserve it can access it as soon as they possibly can and that's the bit that must change."

Last year, the Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison said chronic migraine forced her to step down as a minister.

Welcoming the new treatment, she told ITV News: "I raised this in parliament recently and the first parliamentary debate on migraine since the 1960s which in itself is kind of baffling.

"I'm going to be discussing this with the minister to see how we can get these drugs to people faster because so many people who do access them say they can be life changing."

If there are no appeals against its final draft guidance, Nice is expected to publish its final guidance on the drug next month.

Health Minister Andrew Stephenson said: “Migraines affect millions of people in this country and this new treatment will help prevent recurring migraine attacks when other medicines have failed.

“It will allow more people whose daily life is affected by this painful, debilitating condition to manage their migraines more effectively and to live their lives to the fullest.”

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