An armband that emits mild electric pulses may be an effective new treatment for migraine.
The device, which is strapped around the upper arm during the first few minutes of an attack, can halve symptoms, according to a study of around 70 patients.
The theory is that the electric pulses stimulate nerves under the skin and block pain signals from reaching the brain — and it’s now being tested in a trial of nearly 300 patients.
Migraines, severe headaches, are thought to affect one in five women and one in 15 men in Britain, and cause painful headaches often accompanied by nausea, vomiting or fatigue. An attack can last up to 72 hours and might be preceded or accompanied by flashes of light or aura, tingling, nausea and increased sensitivity to light and sound.
Migraines, severe headaches, are thought to affect one in five women and one in 15 men in Britain, and cause painful headaches often accompanied by nausea, vomiting or fatigue
The exact cause is not fully understood. One theory is that it’s the result of brain cells activating the trigeminal nerve, one of the main nerves in the face, which then relays pain signals back to the brain.
This causes the release of neuropeptides, substances that irritate and cause blood vessels on the surface of the brain to swell. These swollen blood vessels send signals to the brainstem, an area that processes pain information.
There’s no cure for migraine — the mainstays of treatment are painkillers and drugs called triptans that are thought to work by stimulating serotonin, a brain chemical, to reduce inflammation and make blood vessels narrower.
There are also now a number of migraine therapies designed to stimulate the trigeminal nerve which block or interfere with the pain signals reaching the brain, reducing symptoms.
A few devices use stimulation as a treatment for migraine, but until now they have used wires and are attached to the head.
The new gadget, called Nerivio Migra 1, can be worn under a sleeve. It has a credit card-size patch which contains electrodes, a battery and a computer chip, attached to a strap that goes around the arm. When a migraine attack occurs, the user can activate the electrical stimulation using an application on their phone. They can also adjust the strength of the stimulation.
It’s unclear why electrical stimulation of the arm would help but, according to the researchers at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, who led the trial, it blocks pain signals reaching the brain.
It’s based on the idea of conditioned pain modulation, where pain in one area can be blocked or reduced by a sensation felt in another part of the body.
Results of the trial with 71 people showed that after 20 minutes of use, 64 per cent had a reduction in pain after two hours, compared with 26 per cent of people using a placebo device that didn’t emit any signals.
For those who started with moderate to severe pain, 58 per cent said their pain was reduced to mild or no pain, compared with 24 per cent of those using the placebo, reported the journal Neurology in March.
The new trial will take place in hospitals across Israel and the U. S. Around 270 patients will be given the device or a sham, to use when they feel a migraine.
Peter Goadsby, a professor of neurology at King’s College London, said: ‘These early results are promising. Given patients are looking for better tolerated treatments, larger studies are needed to understand whether this treatment will be effective.’
Meanwhile yawning may be an early sign of a migraine attack. In a recent survey of more than 330 migraine patients, nearly half had repetitive yawns before and during the attack itself, according to Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.
Researchers said it can predict the onset of headache in 84 per cent of cases and offers an opportunity for early treatment.
Exactly why is unclear, but the researchers from Ankara Training and Research Hospital in Turkey said the brain chemical dopamine may be implicated as levels are known to rise when we yawn and during migraines.