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Migraines & Headaches Health Center

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Nerve-Stimulating Device Might Ease Migraines

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Monthly use of anti-migraine drugs to cope with migraine attacks when they occurred dropped by nearly 37 percent among supraorbital transcutaneous stimulator users, with no drop among the sham group.

Schoenen and her associates said that the exact mechanism by which electrical stimulation seems to help migraine sufferers remains unclear, though they suggested it might have something to do with the neurological prompting of a "sedative effect."

Perhaps most important was the finding that none of the stimulator users experienced any side effects.

The researchers point to a previously conducted analysis of studies focusing on the impact of taking a 100-milligram dosage of topiramate -- a standard migraine drug. That analysis showed that the drug was considerably more effective than the nerve stimulator devices in its ability to reduce the frequency of monthly attacks.

At the same time, however, the analysis revealed that half of all topiramate patients had experienced drug-related side effects, compared with none among the stimulation device users. A quarter of all topiramate patients had ended up dropping the drug altogether due to the harshness of the side effects.

Commenting on the new study findings, Dr. Gretchen Tietjen, chair of neurology at the University of Toledo Medical Center in Ohio, and director of the center's headache treatment and research program, said: "It's certainly true that for some people side effects are really problematic. Depending on the class of medication, there can be problems with weight gain, hair loss, thinking, sedation, dry mouth, fatigue, dizziness, light-headedness and, for men, particular sexual side effects."

Tietjen added, "So there are a lot of very real issues here. And looking for other approaches like this definitely makes sense."

Study author Schoenen noted that apart from Belgium, the supraorbital transcutaneous stimulator is currently also available in France and Canada, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process is still "ongoing."

Meanwhile, several different follow-up investigations are planned. One will look at the device's impact on patients who suffer more frequent (chronic) migraines, while another will explore a newer stimulation approach in which a similar device will target the suboccipital nerve (also found in the head) in addition to the supraorbital nerve.

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