In the U.S. alone, more than 36 million people suffer from consistent migraine pain. Migraine pain is intense, debilitating, and recurring. It usually consists of a throbbing pain on one side of the head, and is often accompanied by other symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, dizziness and a sensitivity to sounds and light. There are both prescription and over-the-counter medications that can help, but some migraine sufferers cannot tolerate these medicines, at least without nasty side effects. The FDA now has good news for these people: the agency just approved a new headband-shaped device that uses electrical stimulation to battle migraine pain.
When worn, this battery-powered plastic headband, Cefaly, sends small, but steady, electrical pulses into the trigeminal nerve, the largest of the cranial nerves. It may sound crazy, but in a randomized study, those who used the band claimed that they suffered from fewer headaches. In fact, 71 percent of patients stated satisfaction with the results of using the device. And this isn’t the first time electricity has been used in medical devices: we’ve seen similar devices that do everything from preventing bedsores to treating depression.
The U.S. is actually a little behind in approving Cefaly: it’s already being used in both Europe and Canada. So now that the FDA has decided that the Cefaly is safe, are there any side effects? In data collected over the last five years, only a small percentage (about four percent) of its users reported minor side effects: most often, patients complained about a “tingling” sensation when wearing the headband. In comparison, among migraine patients that take medications, about half report major side effects. This makes Cefaly a much more likely choice for those battling the pain of these awful, recurring headaches and paves the way for using electrical stimulation for other forms of chronic pain, too.