Perhaps this has happened to you: while grocery shopping at your local supermarket, suddenly your peripheral vision begins to disappear. This could be frightening, but you know what is coming: a one-sided pulsating pain, sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, vomiting and seeing flashing lights. You quickly drive home and cancel your plans, because you have a migraine headache coming. You need to lie in a dark quiet room for the next 24 hours, trying to move as little as possible.
Migraines affect about 30 million Americans, most commonly between the ages of 15 and 55. This means that one in four households in the U.S. have at least one member impaired by migraines. Women are three times more likely to be migraine sufferers than men.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for migraines. A migraine diary can help identify the headache triggers to avoid. Medications can also help reduce the number of attacks or ease the symptoms, such as painkillers, Triptans (that cause blood vessels in the brain to narrow), anti-inflammatory medications, anti-nausea medicines or feverfew herb. However, these medications are often ineffective or cause unpleasant side effects.
Instead migraine sufferers might find relief from a new non-medicinal alternative, a device called a supraorbital transcutaneous stimulator (STS) that stimulates the nerves around the eyes and forehead. A study recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology tested the safety and effectiveness of this STS device designed to prevent migraines.
Conducted by researchers in five specialized headache clinics in Belgium, this study was a randomized controlled trial that compared the STS device with an identical-looking sham device. Study participants were aged 18 to 65 who routinely experienced a minimum of two (average of four) migraine attacks per month. None of the 67 participants had taken anti-migraine medications in the three months leading up to the study.
Both the STS and sham devices used self-adhesive electrodes placed on the forehead, covering the bridge of the nose and above both eyes, that buzzed identically during treatment. Only the STS devices delivered electrical impulses. The participants wore one of the devices for 20 minutes per day for 90 days.
The participants’ migraine diaries indicated that the STS device reduced the number of migraine days per month from 7 to 5, while the sham group experienced no significant difference. In addition the number of migraine attacks dropped by at least half for 38% of the participants using the STS device, compared with 12% for those using the sham device.
Although the severity of the migraines was not reduced, people using the STS device had fewer days with headache, fewer total migraine attacks and used fewer pain relief medications each month. Most importantly, there were no adverse effects seen in either group.
The study concluded that treatment with a STS device is “effective and safe as a preventive therapy for migraine.” The Ceflay anti-migraine device kit is now available for $240-$300. However, only 67 migraine sufferers have been studied and the use of this device was only examined for three months. Larger studies with longer-term treatment are needed to confirm that this STS device is safe and effective.