Wireless Smartphone Device Could Reduce Migraine Pain

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A wireless arm patch you can control by a smartphone has shown to significantly reduce migraine pain among repeat headache sufferers, says a new study.

The study, appearing in the journal Neurology, shows that the wireless technique cut migraine pain in half among two-thirds of participants involved.

“These results need to be confirmed with additional studies, but they are exciting,” said study author Dr. David Yarnitsky, a member of the medical advisory board for Theranica, maker of the stimulation device.

Credit: Rachel Johnson/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

The researchers found that the device, which “uses electrical stimulation to block the pain signals from reaching the brain,” achieved a drop in pain that was on par with treatments using drugs — something that could be very attractive to individuals who are wary of prescription painkillers.

“People with migraine are looking for non-drug treatments, and this new device is easy to use, has no side effects and can be conveniently used in work or social settings,” said Yarnitsky.

Related: Researchers Discover Possible Way to Block Migraines

Many people who suffer from migraines take a type of medication known as triptans, which are available in tablet form and as injections. However, while triptans are effective at reducing pain, they come with side effects, including a narrowing of the arteries of the heart, among other things.

The wireless device showed similar results — without the potential side effects. “These results are similar to those seen for the triptan medications for migraine,” Yarnitsky said.

How the Device Works

Credit: Theranica.com

The cutting-edge device looks like an armband, but it uses sophisticated technology, including rubber electrodes and a chip, that can connect wirelessly to a device and control electrical stimulation.

The researchers tested the device on 71 individuals with a history of episodic migraines. Each person involved in the study had at least two and as many as eight migraine attacks per month.

Soon after the onset of a migraine, the study participants were asked to attach the device to their arm and use it for at least 20 minutes. Over the course of the study, the researchers treated nearly 300 distinct migraine episodes and found a significant amount of pain reduction — 64% of study participants saw at least a 50% reduction in pain two hours after the treatment.

Related: Vegetable Oils May Cause Migraines, Fatigue and Dementia

Additionally, 58% of study participants with moderate to severe pain reported that their pain subsided to mild or no pain after the treatment. The researchers found that initiating the wireless stimulation treatment within 20 minutes of the onset of a migraine proved far more effective than waiting longer than 20 minutes — about 47% of study participants reported pain reduction when starting early compared to just 25% when waiting longer.

One limitation to the study that the researchers reported was that some people who were receiving a placebo treatment — or no active electrical stimulation — turned off the device before the 20-minute period was over.

“This may indicate that they knew the stimulation was not active, and thus they were no longer blinded to the study, which is a challenge in any sham stimulation study,” he said.

However, the researchers are optimistic that further studies will fine tune the novel approach.

Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.