PUBLIC DOMAIN Nonpainful electrical stimulation can be used to treat severe migraines.
Neurologists at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, recently developed a wearable, wireless arm patch that may help to relieve episodic migraine pain.
Migraines are the third most prevalent disease in the world, with one billion sufferers worldwide. In the United States alone, more than 37 million people suffer from migraines. Studies suggest that 2-3 million people experience chronic migraines.
Migraine attacks are typically characterized by a severe throbbing recurrent pain, usually affecting one side of the head. They are usually accompanied by extreme sensitivity to light and sound, as well as nausea and vomiting. Women are nearly three times more likely than men to get migraines.
Episodic migraine sufferers have fewer than 14 headaches per month for three months. Chronic migraine sufferers experience headaches 15 days or more per month. In both cases, the headaches do not have to be severe headaches or migraine headaches to count. Episodic migraines may become chronic; However, the mechanism by which this occurs has yet to be determined.
A typical migraine occurs in two steps. First, the trigeminal nerve activates. The exact cause of its excitation is unknown, but when it gets activated, pain begins around the eye and temple.
Triptans, migraine medications, control the inflammation if it’s caught early enough, stopping the onset of the migraine altogether. However, if left untreated, the central nervous system gets triggered, causing the migraine itself.
In the preliminary study at the Technion, David Yarnitsky, a faculty member at the Technion American Medical School and member of the Medical Advisory Board for Theranica, maker of the stimulation device, was the study author. He and his team aimed to discern the effectiveness of alleviating migraine pain with non-painful electrical stimulation.
The device used blocks pain signals from the brain with electrical stimulation. Users can control the device from their smartphone. “There are no side effects,” Yarnitsky said. “You feel a tingle in your arm.”
To begin, participants who suffered from migraines placed rubber electrodes on their upper arms after they had begun experiencing a migraine attack. They then experienced different electric stimulation at various pulses for 20 minutes and didn’t take any medicine for two hours. They continued to use the device during their next 20 attacks.
The research group evaluated 71 episodic migraine patients, and a total of 299 migraines were treated using the device. The device was programmed to randomly give either a sham (placebo) shock at a very low frequency, or a real one at one of four levels of stimulation.
Every patient got both real and sham stimulation. Unfortunately, patients receiving sham stimulations often stopped the treatment before the 20 minutes were up.
“This may indicate that they knew the stimulation was not active, and thus they were no longer blinded to the study, which is a challenge in any sham stimulation study,” he said.
Sixty-four percent of patients experienced up to 50 percent reduction in pain. For those patients whose pain began at a moderate or severe level of discomfort, 58 percent of participants felt that they either experienced very little pain or no pain at all at the highest levels of stimulation. Thirty percent of those who received the highest level of stimulation reported having no migraine pain.
Additionally, the researchers found that the earlier the electrical stimulation began, the better it was at reducing pain. They found a 46.7 percent alleviation in pain when implemented earlier as opposed to a 24.9 percent reduction.
“These results need to be confirmed with additional studies, but they are exciting,” Yarnitsky said. “People with migraine[s] are looking for non-drug treatments, and this new device is easy to use, has no side effects and can be conveniently used in work or social settings.”