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New Device to Treat Migraines

Migraine headaches are extremely difficult to treat, so doctors tend to focus more on prevention with daily medications. Unfortunately, many of these drugs have unpleasant side effects. Many people with migraines do not respond to preventive medications, and it takes a much trial and effort to find the right combination of drugs.

Well, there is good news for migraine sufferers. A team of researchers are investigating migraine prevention measures that use a form of non-invasive electrical stimulation, which is similar to that used by physical therapists who treat muscle injuries. A new study shows that a particular device worn on the head like a tiara will deliver electrical pulses, and therefore, reduce the frequency of migraine headaches in some people.

Researchers Test Supraorbital Transcutaneous Stimulator for Migraines

Belgian researchers report that this new device is worm for only 20 minutes each day, and it provides nerve stimulation that decreases the frequency of migraine attacks. The small study involved 67 people who suffered from migraines regularly. The participants utilized the device, called a supraorbital transcutaneous stimulator or STS, which was put on the forehead. The STS is designed to deliver painless electrical stimulation to the patient's supraorbital nerve.

The lead researcher, Dr. Jean Schoenen works with the Headache Research Unit in the neurology department of GIGA Neurosciences at Liege University. Along with her colleagues, Schoenen published findings in a current issue of the medical journal Neurology. These researchers report that the use of the stimulator device is effective and safe for the prevention of migraine headaches.

The study participants all were between the ages of 18 and 65 years, and they were being treated for migraines at a clinic in Belgium. All of these patients had a minimum of two or more migraine attacks each month, with an average of four per month. Many participants had previously tried drug-based therapies, but none of them had taken any type of preventive or chronic migraine treatment in the three months before the clinical study.

New Study Finds Migraines Prevented with Electrical Stimulator

The migraine headache participants were divided into two groups by random selection, and both groups were given identical self-adhesive stimulation electrode pads to put on their foreheads. This was done for 20 minutes each day over a three-month time period. One group's electrodes were considered "control," which delivered no electrical pulse, and the study group's electrodes provided supraorbital transcutaneous stimulation.

All study participants kept a migraine diary, describing the headache severity and if or not it decreased over the three-month period. Those migraine sufferers who wore working devices saw the frequency of their headache attacks decrease from around seven per month to less than five. The control group users did not experience this drop-off, however.

The researchers found that 38 percent of the participants with working devices saw a drop off rate of more than half, compared to only 12 percent in the control group. Also, monthly use of anti-migraine drugs dropped nearly 40 percent among the users of supraorbital transcutaneous stimulators. There was no decrease in the control group. The most significant finding of this study was that none of the stimulator users had any side-effects.


The researchers reported that the exact mechanism by which electrical stimulation helps prevent migraines still remains unclear, but they believe it has something to do with the neurological "sedative effect." At present, the supraorbital transcutaneous stimulator is only available in Canada and France, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is in the middle of the approval process.


WebMD (2013). Retrieved from:

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