Pity the migraine sufferer. The throbbing pain, chills, depression, sensitivity to light, nausea ... it’s as if the gods invented the condition as the ultimate punishment.
Those with chronic migraines have little relief other than medications, and many of those have side effects. But now a group of researchers is exploring the use of non-invasive electrical stimulation to help ease the agony.
“Repeated stimulation of [the supraorbital] nerve is able to modify the activity of brain centers that are involved in the transmission and control of pain,” said study author Dr. Jean Schoenen of the Headache Research Unit at the University of Liège in Belgium.
In the study, 67 participants who suffered an average of four miserable migraine attacks per month were given the stimulation 20 minutes a day for three months or they were given a fake stimulation that delivered too little to have an effect.
About 38 percent of patients who received the stimulation had at least a 50 percent reduction in the frequency of migraines, compared to 12 percent for those who wore the deficient device. Best of all, there were no side effects from the stimulation.
"These results are exciting, because the results were similar to those of drugs that are used to prevent migraine, but often those drugs have many side effects for people, and frequently the side effects are bad enough that people decide to quit taking the drug," said Schoenen.
Schoenen noted that the study was an exploration into preventing the frequency of migraine attacks; as of yet there are no studies testing how effective stimulation is in reducing the pain of a migraine attack once it starts, but the stimulator contains an "acute" stimulation program that reduces pain in moderate attacks in many patients.
A device to deliver the stimulation hasn't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., but Canadian company Cefaly has developed a high-tech headband that reduces the frequency of migraines in some sufferers. The neurostimulation is designed to limit pain signals from the nerve center by working on the trigeminal nerve where migraine headaches originate. High-frequency nerve stimulation is thought to somehow interrupt the pain signals and prevent a migraine. The patented treatment changes the trigger threshold of migraine headaches.
As the pain threshold becomes harder to reach, migraine headaches are less frequent, less painful, and simply disappear, according to the company website.
And not to worry, this isn’t some kind of electro-shock therapy à la "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." The current delivers only a small prickling sensation, much like the electric stimulation one might receive from the chiropractor or physical therapist.
To see the device and hear a lot of very, very long neurological terms, see the company’s promotional video below.
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