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Electronic Device May Head Off Migraine Pain, Clinical Trial Indicates

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By Editor • • August 1, 2006

A painless one-millisecond pulse of magnetic energy to the head at the onset of visual disturbances might often interfere with the “electrical storms” that trigger migraine, according to a recent proof-of-concept trial employing a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) device at Ohio State University Medical Center. About 70 percent of the patients treated with TMS during headache onset reported little or no pain at two hours post-treatment, and avoidance of other symptoms was even greater. “We’re treating electricity with electricity instead of treating electricity with chemicals,” comments lead researcher Yousef Mohammad, MD. Many patients with Fibromyalgia suffer with migraines, and some neurologists theorize that Fibro might be associated with disturbances in the brain’s pain center very similar to the electrical disturbances now thought to trigger these headaches. In fact, “Many [Fibro] patients who are successfully treated for migraine find that their Fibromyalgia is improved,” say neurologists at the nationally accredited Michigan Head Pain and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor.1 “Though the pain of Fibromyalgia is frequently found throughout the body,” they add, “it is associated with a variety of other symptoms, including sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, and headaches. Migraine is associated with many of these symptoms as well.” Migraine is generally differentiated from other headaches by neurological warning signals such as visual disturbances, weakness, and confusion. This is followed by intense pain, sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, and vomiting. The TMS trial may point to relief without medication for some migraine sufferers within the next year or two, says Dr. Mohammad. The randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind test involved use of a handheld, hairdryer-size TMS device. It produces a painless pulse said to represent 1/1,000 of the magnetic energy involved in an MRI. The trial included 50 patients instructed to report to a headache center at the first sign of visual auras. Of the patients who reported, 26 were treated with a TMS device and 21 with a placebo (fake) device.

Study results. The two groups of patients reported the following results:

n At two hours after treatment a large majority of the TMS-treated patients reported no sensitivity to noise (94 percent of them), no light sensitivity (64 percent), and/or no nausea (88 percent). For the placebo group the results were 17, 22, and 56 percent.

n Additionally 18 of the 26 TMS-treated patients (69 percent) reported they had either no pain or only mild pain at two hours post-treatment. This was significantly better than the 10 out of 21 patients in the placebo group (48 percent) who reported similar results.

n None of the patients reported TMS-related pain or negative side effects.

“The results are very promising but need to be confirmed by an upcoming large, randomized study,” says Dr. Mohammad. Extensive recent use of TMS technology to study electrical activities in the brain reportedly spurred development of this device, which the FDA has approved only for investigational purposes while the clinical studies are being conducted. The study report, “Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) relieves migraine headache,” was presented at the 48th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society on June 23, 2006. Study equipment and funding were provided by the TMS device’s developer, and the researchers state they have no financial or other affiliation with the company.


1. “Q&A on Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Migraines,” at

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