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Electrical Nerve Stimulation Proves Beneficial to Some Migraineurs

A handheld device that delivers electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve is showing promise treating different types of migraine.

Patients who use the device, gammaCore, hold it against their necks. The mild electrical signal it produces travels through the skin to the nerve, which runs from the brain stem to the abdomen.

Two presentations at the recent American Academy of Neurology conference in Philadelphia reported the findings from clinical studies evaluating the device; the findings were also included in the journal Neurology last month.

At the conference, Innocenzo Rainero, MD, from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Torino, Italy, shared results from a trial of 15 patients, who had either chronic migraine or headache from medication overuse. Over the 6-month study period that included 362 migraine attacks, after treatment with gammaCore, participants were pain-free in 33% of attacks, and significant pain relief occurred in half of the of attacks.

Dr. Rainero noted that rescue medication was required in less than 19% of the attacks and that side effects were mild and lasted only a short time.

Licia Grazzi, MD, of the Headache Centre at the Neurological Institute C. Besta in Milan, Italy, provided information on a gammaCore study that included 30 patients with migraine with aura.

Ninety-six migraine attacks were treated in the study, and 56% of the patients reported meaningful relief 2 hours after treatment, and in nearly 45% of the attacks, patients were pain-free within 30 minutes. In nearly 44% of the attacks, however, the treatment did not provide relief, and patients used medication to treat their pain. No adverse affects were reported.

Experts report gammaCore works bysending signals to the brain that reduce a neurotransmitter called glutamate, which has been associated with headache.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved gammaCore, and it is not currently marketed in the United States. Some clinical studies evaluating gammaCore for treatment of cluster headache are recruiting participants. NHF’s Dr. Arthur Elkind cautioned those interested that in small studies, efficacy is not clearly demonstrated and that adverse affects of a treatment may exist.

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