Magnetic pulse therapy for migraine
Trials of a new device show positive results in treating migraine with aura
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
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
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.
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.
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%.
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.”