WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
March 3, 2010 -- A handheld device that magnetically zaps pain may be a
promising new treatment for patients with a common type of migraine.
Compared to patients who got sham treatments, more patients treated with the
experimental device, known as single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation
(sTMS), were pain-free two hours later.
About 35 million Americans have migraines, according to the American
Headache Society, and about 20% to 30% of these patients have headaches that
are preceded by visual or other sensory warning signs.
Known medically as migraine with aura, aura-associated warning symptoms may
include seeing flashing lights or zigzag patterns, blind spots or blindness in
one or both eyes, a prickling feeling on the skin, and even visual and auditory
Drugs commonly used in the treatment of severe headaches are generally not
considered effective in the aura phase of migraine attacks, and many patients
want to treat their migraines without using drugs, neurologist and headache
specialist Richard B. Lipton, MD, tells WebMD.
Lipton directs the Montefiore Headache Center at the Albert Einstein College
of Medicine in the Bronx.
"There is a lot of unmet medical need out there in the treatment of
migraine," he says. "Some people don't tolerate the drug treatments very well
and others just want to avoid them."
Lipton and colleagues assessed the safety and effectiveness of a portable
sTMS device in a study involving 201 migraine-with-aura patients treated at 16
medical centers across the country.
About half the patients were given the sTMS device to use at home. The rest
were given an identical looking device that emitted no magnetic pulses.
The idea behind sTMS is that the magnetic pulses disrupt the electrical
events in the brain that lead to migraines.
Prior to entering the study, the patients had between one and eight
migraines with aura per month.
They were instructed to apply the devices to the back of their heads when
they felt a headache coming on, and to administer two pulses.
The patients were also asked to record their pain levels immediately
following treatment, and then again 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, 24 hours,
and 48 hours later.
Of the 164 patients who recorded migraine attacks during the study, 39% in
the sTMS group reported being pain-free two hours after treatment, compared to
22% in the sham group.
No major difference in the severity of migraine-associated light and noise
sensitivity and nausea was seen in the two groups.
The study was funded by the medical technology company Neurolieve of
Sunnyvale, Calif., which hopes to market the handheld sTMS device as a
treatment for migraines with aura, pending FDA approval.
Lipton, who is a past president of the American Headache Society and also
owns stock in Neurolieve, points out that the regulatory agency has already
approved a similar, non-portable device, which delivers repetitive TMS pulses,
for the treatment of depression.
But in an editorial published along with the study, neurologist and migraine
researcher Hans-Christoph Diener of Germany's University Hospital Essen writes
that important questions remain about the experimental treatment.
These questions include whether the portable sTMS is an effective treatment
for patients who have migraine without aura and whether repetitive TMS is more
effective than single-pulse TMS.
The study and editorial appear March 4 in the online issue of The Lancet
Diener calls for the findings to be replicated in a second, independent
"This is particularly important because the trial failed to show efficacy in
a second important endpoint in migraine studies, namely the improvement from
moderate headache to mild or no headache," he writes.
SOURCES:Lipton, R.B. The Lancet Neurology, March 4, 2010; online edition.Richard B. Lipton, MD, department of neurology, Albert Einstein College of
Medicine; director, Montefiore Headache Center, Bronx, N.Y.WebMD Health News:
"Magnetic Pulses May 'Zap' Migraine Pain."
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