January 10, 2007 (WLS) -- There are plenty of medications to treat the painful pounding of a migraine, but they don't work for everyone. Healthbeat reporter Sylvia Perez has more on an alternative treatment for patients who have run out of other options.
Drugs that prevent the onset of migraines work in only 60 percent of patients. Some people end up going from neurologist to neurologist and pain clinic to pain clinic looking for relief. But now there is a device that could prevent the pain.
Chrissy Freuth's migraine started early.
"I remember the lights bothering me and the sun," Freuth said.
They got worse after she had kids.
"You always think, Could it get worse? And it does get worse," said Freuth.
Freuth is one of 28 million people in the US who suffer from migraines. It is the No. 1 cause of lost work and lost productivity in the United States for all pain conditions. And Chrissy isn't the only one in her family. Her mom, sister and two kids also have migraines. The nine drugs she takes don't always work. Dr. Fred Freitag at the Diamond Headache Clinic says that's not uncommon.
"If we could just offer them another tool, another approach to bring management to their headaches, to bring back their quality of life, it is all worthwhile," said Fred Freitag, DO, Diamond Headache Clinic.
Freitag is teaming up with Dr. Sandeep Amin at Rush University Medical Center to study nerve stimulation for migraine relief.
"You are stimulating large nerve fibers, which have the ability to block the sensation of pain," said Dr. Sandeep Amin, anesthesiologist.
When implanted, this device sends electrical impulses to the occipital nerves in the head. The occipital nerves are a set of nerves in the back of the head that arise from the upper part of the cervical spine. Stimulation of this particular set of nerves is an exploration of whether blocking nerve impulses will block the sensation of pain in patients who have migraines.
"So, when we stimulate these nerves in the upper neck with the stimulator, it goes in and actually turns off the center of the brain that causes the migraine to begin," said Amin.
Half of the people who get spinal cord stimulation for chronic pain have about a 60 percent reduction in pain.
Dr. Amin expects similar results for migraines.
"I think it opens a window for probably millions of patients who are suffering from migraines who have no alternatives," said Amin.
Chrissy Freuth is first in line to get the device.
"Having chronic pain every day, it gets to you. There's just nowhere to go. You are constantly with it and even the strongest of people. You run out of coping skills," said Freuth.
Freuth is hoping the stimulator will be the answer she has been waiting for.
This is a double blind study so the patients don't know if they are actually receiving the stimulation or the placebo. The study is currently enrolling patients with migraines at about 15 different sites around the country, including Chicago.
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