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Magnetic pulse therapy for migraine

Trials of a new device show positive results in treating migraine with aura
By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
woman holding head in pain

4th March 2010 - A hand-held device that delivers a magnetic pulse to the back of the head could be an effective alternative treatment for patients with migraine, according to a study in a forthcoming edition of The Lancet.

The authors say that the advantage of the new technique is that the equipment can be used at home as a viable alternative to medication or invasive treatment.

Around one in four women and one in 12 men in the UK are affected by migraines. In about one in six cases the migraine begins with an ‘aura’, a temporary visual or sensory disturbance. Typical symptoms are flashing lights, blind spots in the vision and zig-zag patterns.

New trial

The US research team from New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine set out to test the theory that single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (sTMS) could disrupt electrical disturbances in the brain that cause migraine aura. Previous trials had been positive, but the nature of the experiments meant it was impossible to prove that the technique reduced pain.

Furthermore, the equipment used in the trials was large and expensive and not suitable for use outside a clinic.

Using a hand-held device, that would be suitable for home use, lead researcher Richard Lipton and colleagues carried out fresh trials involving 201 patients. 102 of them were treated with the device that delivered the magnetic pulse and the remaining 99 were treated with a ‘sham’ device that merely imitated the sounds of the genuine equipment.

The results

They found that those who were treated with the magnetic pulses were much more likely to be pain free than those who had used the ‘sham’ device. They were also more likely to be pain free when checked two hours later and then at intervals of 24 and 48 hours.

Of the 164 patients who treated at least one attack, 39% in the sTMS group were pain free 2 hours after treatment compared with 22% in the sham group. The researchers say this represents a therapeutic gain of 17%.

“Promising” treatment

The authors say more research is need, but they write that “Although the exact mechanisms of migraine remain under study, administration of sTMS in people with migraine with aura decreases progression of the attack in some individuals...and could be a promising acute treatment.”

Lee Tomkins, Director of charity Migraine Action says “we are sure that this will of particular interest to the 40% of migraineurs who sometimes experience aura symptoms, particularly as this is not currently an aspect of the condition for which there is an adequate treatment”.

She adds in an email that “Migraine Action would welcome further research into the use of this device, including looking at how regularly it could be used safely for those experiencing very frequent attacks.”

Published on March 04, 2010

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