Zapping Migraines

February 6, 2009 8:17:00 PM PST
About 28 million Americans suffer from migraines. The debilitating headaches disrupt lives and force many to rely on powerful pain medications. Now a new technique zaps away pain before it starts using a migraine magnet.It happens at the worst times.

"Migraines are pretty inconvenient for me," Richard Higgins told Ivanhoe.

Higgins has suffered from migraines since he was a kid. Now the biomedical engineer often gets them at work.

"My first symptoms are auras, which are small blind spots in my vision, and over the course of 10 to 15 minutes, that blind spot grows so much so that I can't read or I can't drive safely," Higgins described.

There may be a way to relieve his pain without medication.

"This is a very exciting and important option," Yousef Mohammad, M.D., M.Sc., a professor of neurology at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, told Ivanhoe.

It's called a transcranial magnetic stimulator, or TMS.

"They'll put it at the back of their head and they'll receive two pulses," Dr. Mohammad explained.

The device sends magnetic pulses during the aura phase -- the warning period before the migraine hits. It's often described as an electrical storm.

"We're interrupting this electrical storm or current in the brain before it leads to the headache," Dr. Mohammad said.

Research shows 39 percent of patients were pain-free two hours after the treatment compared to twenty-two percent who got sham pulses. Higgins eagerly joined the TMS trial, hoping to find a replacement for pain killers.

"Using a device that can disrupt my migraine without taking medicine, I think is for me a much safer way to deal with the symptoms," he said.

With a job that requires his full attention, Higgins can't afford to let his migraines win.

According to Dr. Mohammad, the TMS device could be approved in the next few months. If approved, it will probably be much smaller than the one used in the research trials. Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Ohio State University Medical Center
Sheri Kirk, Medical Center Communications
(614) 293-3737
Sheri.Kirk@osumc.edu

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