First aid * Mental wellbeing

Magnetic pulse lessens migraine pain

new magnetic device can treat migraine Hand-held gadget effective up to 48 hours

A new hand-held gadget that delivers a magnetic pulse to the back of the head has been shown to be effective in treating migraine pain, with no reported side effects.

Migraines are severe headaches, often associated with other symptoms such as sickness, increased sensitivity and visual problems. In some people with migraine, these symptoms occur hours before the onset of the headache and are called "auras". The new gadget was used to treat patients who experience these auras.

Previous research had suggested that magnetic stimulation of the brain can alleviate migraine symptoms, as the magnetic field disrupts the electrical events in the brain associated with migraine attacks.

But these studies used large, expensive devices, and did not take the placebo effect into account. In this study, the new gadget is small enough to be used by hand and volunteers were sorted into two groups, with one receiving a fake treatment.

Patients treated with the magnetic device were more likely to be pain free at follow-up intervals of 2, 24, and 48 hours, were free of headache recurrence, and did not require rescue medication, compared with those who received the fake treatment.

Of 164 patients who were treated afer at least one attack, 39% using the device were pain free two hours after treatment compared with 22% in the fake group.

The new treatment, called single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (sTEM) also had little or no side-effects, and the volunteers reported no errors or problems in using the device.

The leaders of the study, which was carried out at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, commented: "Although the exact mechanisms of migraine remain under study, administration of sTMS in people with migraine with aura decreases progression of the attack in some individuals…and could be a promising acute treatment."

The results are published in the Lancet Neurology.

This article was published on Thu 4 March 2010

Image © James Steidl -

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