Migraines are difficult to treat and prevention usually means taking daily medications, which may come with unpleasant side effects.
Some migraine sufferers don’t respond well to preventive meds, and it can take a lot of trial and error to find a combination of drugs that work.
Now, a group of researchers is looking into preventing migraines using of a form of non-invasive electrical stimulation, not unlike what physical therapists use to treat injuries. A new study found that a device you wear on your face like a tiara, but which delivers electrical pulses, can reduce the frequency of migraines in some sufferers.
The device, called Cefaly, is placed on the forehead along with a small electrode. It delivers electrical stimulation (it feels like a prickling sensation) to the supraorbital nerve. This nerve reaches up to the forehead and down to the trigeminal nerve, a nerve responsible for sensation in the face and has been implicated in migraines. High -frequency nerve stimulation is thought to somehow interrupt the pain signals and prevent a migraine.
“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 her study, published in the online issue of journal Neurology, 67 people from Belgium who had an average of four migraine attacks per month, received either the stimulation 20 minutes a day for three months or a sham stimulation, where they wore the device but the stimulation given was at levels too low to have any effect.
About 38 percent of patients who received the stimulation had at least a 50 percent reduction in the monthly frequency of migraine days, compared to 12 percent for those who wore the sham glasses, Schoenen said.
The number of days with migraine decreased from 6.9 days to 4.8 days per month. The treatment took about a month to have an effect.
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," Schoenen said. The authors are careful to point out that the study did not include people with the most severe cases of migraines.
This was a trial to prevent the frequency of migraine attacks. There are no well-designed trials testing how effective it 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, Schoenen said.
The device is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. Visit Cefaly's website to learn more about it.
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.