Device effective in zapping the pain out of migraines

COLUMBUS , Ohio An electronic device designed to "zap" away migraine pain before it starts may be the next form of relief for millions of people who suffer from the debilitating disease.

Results of a study found that the experimental device appears to be effective in eliminating the headache when administered during the onset of the migraine.

The study, led by the Ohio State University Medical Center neurology investigators, was presented Thursday (6/22) at the annual American Headache Society meeting in Los Angeles .

A subsequent study will examine the device in a larger population.

The device, called TMS, interrupts the aura phase of the migraine, often described as electrical storms in the brain, before they lead to headaches. Auras are neural disturbances that signal the onset of migraine headaches. People who suffer from migraine headaches often describe "seeing" showers of shooting stars, zigzagging lines and flashing lights, and experiencing loss of vision, weakness, tingling or confusion. What typically follows these initial symptoms is intense throbbing head pain, nausea and vomiting.

Yousef Mohammad, a neurologist at OSU Medical Center who presented the results, says that the patients in this study reported a significant reduction in nausea, noise and light sensitivity post treatment.

"Perhaps the most significant effect of using the TMS device was on the two-hour symptom assessment, with 84 percent of the episodes in patients using the TMS occurring without noise sensitivity. Work functioning also improved, and there were no side effects reported," Mohammad said.

The stimulator sends a strong electric current through a metal coil, which creates an intense magnetic field for about one millisecond. This magnetic pulse, when held against a person's head, creates an electric current in the neurons of the brain, interrupting the aura before it results in a throbbing headache.

"The device's pulses are painless. The patients have felt a little pressure, but that's all," said Mohammad, who is principal investigator of the study at Ohio State .

"In our study sample, 69 percent of the TMS-related headaches reported to have either no or mild pain at the two-hour post-treatment point compared to 48 percent of the placebo group. In addition, 42 percent of the TMS-treated patients graded their headache response, without symptoms, as very good or excellent compared to 26 percent for the placebo group. These are very encouraging results."

It was previously believed that migraine headaches start with vascular constriction, which results in an aura, followed by vascular dilation that will lead to a throbbing headache. However, in the late 1990s it was instead suggested that neuronal electrical hyper excitability resulted in a throbbing headache. This new understanding of the migraine mechanism has assisted with the development of the TMS device.

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NeuraLieve, located in Sunnyvale, Ca., provided the funding and equipment for the study. Mohammad has no other financial relationship or affiliation with the company.

Contact: Sherri L. Kirk, Medical Center Communications, 614-293-3737, or Sherri.Kirk@osumc.edu


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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