Nerve stimulation is an accepted treatment for chronic pain, but is not well understood when it comes to headaches. Researchers are looking at how effective a new stimulation device is at preventing migraines.
A recent study examines how safe and effective nerve stimulation is for the prevention of migraines.
Study participants who wore a nerve stimulator for 20 minutes a day reduced their headaches by an average of two migraines per month.
Over a third of participants receiving nerve stimulation had fifty percent fewer headaches per month.
Jean Schoenen, MD, PhD of Liege University in Belgium and colleagues studied 67 people who had regular and uncontrolled migraines. Thirty-four of these patients were treated using nerve stimulation for twenty minutes a day for three months and the other 33 study participants were given sham stimulation as a placebo.
Migraines were monitored in all study participants for 30 days before the three months of treatment began. All study participants experienced at least two migraine attacks per month.
All patients kept a diary of any headaches, severity and any accompanying symptoms, like aura or nausea.
The nerve stimulator’s frame is designed to look like sporty sunglasses or a lightweight tiara, according to an editorial led by Eishi Asano, MD, PhD, of the Wayne State University School of Medicine. The devices were made by STX-Med and cost a little over $400 each, but were donated for use in this study.
The device is place on the forehead where it delivers an electrical impulse to the supraorbital nerve. The supraorbital is a nerve in the head that carries sensation to the upper eyelid, forehead, and scalp, located towards the back of the skull.
Those receiving sham stimulation wore the device, but were given nerve stimulation at levels too low to have any effect. Study participants were not told whether they were receiving actual nerve stimulation or placebo.
The average number of monthly migraines fell from seven to five for those receiving nerve stimulation. The average number of migraines remained between six and seven during the treatment for those in the sham stimulation group.
Thirty-eight percent of those who had real nerve stimulation experienced a 50 percent or higher reduction in monthly migraines, compared to 12 percent in the fake stimulation group.
Dr. Schoenen points out that these results are similar to results seen in those taking drugs like Topiramate to prevent migraine. However, some who take pharmaceuticals for migraines experience unwanted side effects.
No side effects were experienced from nerve stimulation.
The study was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Funding was provided by Walloon Region. STX-Med provided the devices free of charge.
Authors reported associations with ATI Redwood California, St. Jude Medical USA, Allergan, ATI, Medtronic and Cyberonics.