Stop Migraines Before They Start
For the 28 million people who suffer migraine headaches, pain is a frequent visitor. Drugs can help, but only after the pain starts. Doctors in Philadelphia are testing a device that might actually block migraines. So far, the tests have been very impressive.
For 10 years, Lisa Matthews has experienced surreal episodes called auras, sometimes more than once a week. Auras are 15 to 20 minutes of visual hallucinations, signaling that a migraine is coming.
About 20 per cent of migraine sufferers have auras before the headache hits.
Doctors describe it as an electrical storm on the brain.
At Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, a team of doctors is testing a way to stop that storm and prevent migraines.
The device is called a transcranial magnetic stimulator, or TMS, nicknamed the Migraine Zapper.
The principle is to fight fire with fire.
Dr. William Young explained, "If you put a magnetic pulse onto the surface of the brain, you can interrupt the aura and stop a migraine attack."
Inside the bulky-looking machine is a magnetic coil.
First, it gets an electrical charge from an ordinary wall socket.
When the Migraine Zapper is fully powered, it beeps.
Then it's placed against the back of the head, where it is turned on to release a minute pulse.
Dr. Young said, "It's enough to just subtly disturb nerve functions for just a brief second."
In the study, patients either get the real Migraine Zapper, or a sham device that looks the same, but delivers no magnetic impulse.
No one knows which patients are getting the real thing.
But Lisa Matthews believes she got the real device.
"I have used it 3 times, (and it worked) every time," she said.
The device was originally developed by Youssef Mohammad, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology at Ohio State University Medical Center.
Dr. Young, the study leader at Jefferson, says it's the kind of non-drug alternative they've been hoping for.
"I'm kind of tired of putting pills in people and giving them side effects, and having to play the balance game, between which is worse: the treatment or the headache," explained Young.
Matthews is finished with the study, but hopefully not the Migraine Zapper. She hopes to get it back.
If the tests continue to go well, the developer of the Migraine Zapper hopes to have it on the market sometime next year.
It's not being used for those who get migraines without aura yet, because doctors don't know the best time to start the treatment or even if it will work.
This is just one of several exciting new avenues for migraine relief being tested in Philadelphia. We'll have more on those others in the days ahead.
The study is still open to volunteers. For more information, call the Jefferson Headache Center at (215) 955-2243.
(Copyright 2007 by Action News and 6abc. All Rights Reserved.)
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