The Science of Sustainability

Nerve-Stimulating Headband May Prevent Migraines

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Photograph of the Cefaly anti-migraine device courtesy of STX-Medsprl via Wikimedia Commons licensing.

Photograph of the Cefaly anti-migraine device courtesy of STX-Medsprl via Wikimedia Commons licensing.

Perhaps this has happened to you: while grocery shopping at your local supermarket, suddenly your peripheral vision begins to disappear. This could be frightening, but you know what is coming: a one-sided pulsating pain, sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, vomiting and seeing flashing lights. You quickly drive home and cancel your plans, because you have a migraine headache coming. You need to lie in a dark quiet room for the next 24 hours, trying to move as little as possible.

Migraines affect about 30 million Americans, most commonly between the ages of 15 and 55. This means that one in four households in the U.S. have at least one member impaired by migraines. Women are three times more likely to be migraine sufferers than men.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for migraines. A migraine diary can help identify the headache triggers to avoid. Medications can also help reduce the number of attacks or ease the symptoms, such as painkillers, Triptans (that cause blood vessels in the brain to narrow), anti-inflammatory medications, anti-nausea medicines or feverfew herb. However, these medications are often ineffective or cause unpleasant side effects.

Instead migraine sufferers might find relief from a new non-medicinal alternative, a device called a supraorbital transcutaneous stimulator (STS) that stimulates the nerves around the eyes and forehead. A study recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology tested the safety and effectiveness of this STS device designed to prevent migraines.

Conducted by researchers in five specialized headache clinics in Belgium, this study was a randomized controlled trial that compared the STS device with an identical-looking sham device. Study participants were aged 18 to 65 who routinely experienced a minimum of two (average of four) migraine attacks per month. None of the 67 participants had taken anti-migraine medications in the three months leading up to the study.

Both the STS and sham devices used self-adhesive electrodes placed on the forehead, covering the bridge of the nose and above both eyes, that buzzed identically during treatment. Only the STS devices delivered electrical impulses. The participants wore one of the devices for 20 minutes per day for 90 days.

The participants’ migraine diaries indicated that the STS device reduced the number of migraine days per month from 7 to 5, while the sham group experienced no significant difference. In addition the number of migraine attacks dropped by at least half for 38% of the participants using the STS device, compared with 12% for those using the sham device.

Although the severity of the migraines was not reduced, people using the STS device had fewer days with headache, fewer total migraine attacks and used fewer pain relief medications each month. Most importantly, there were no adverse effects seen in either group.

The study concluded that treatment with a STS device is “effective and safe as a preventive therapy for migraine.” The Ceflay anti-migraine device kit is now available for $240-$300. However, only 67 migraine sufferers have been studied and the use of this device was only examined for three months. Larger studies with longer-term treatment are needed to confirm that this STS device is safe and effective.

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Category: Blog, Health

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Jennifer Huber

About the Author ()

Jennifer Huber is a medical imaging scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with more than 20 years of experience in academic science writing. She received her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California Santa Barbara. She is also a freelance science writer, editor and blogger, as well as a science-writing instructor for the University of California Berkeley Extension. Jennifer has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area most of her life and she frequently enjoys the eclectic cultural, culinary and outdoor activities available in the area. Read her previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.
  • A. McD

    Celfay unit not available in US from manufacturer. Canada COSTCO sells unit but will not ship to States. Internet search did identify one overseas company that may ship to US. Not sure if officially allowed into country.

    • WritingInstructor

      I believe this Celfay device is still waiting approval for distribution in the US, but you would have to check with the manufacturer. According to the Celfay Facebook page, it will be available in the US in a few months. In Belgium, you can even rent it for a few months to see if it works for you before you buy one.

  • venice van der ross

    Please can you let me know where this nerve band can be purchased…..as my daughter has been to every headache clinic and neurosurgeon….that South Africa has to offer…she has been a sufferer since the age of 19years she is now 36…she has even been operated on….nothing has helped her in anyway…I am desperate to help my daughter….please please answer as to where I can purchase this product for her to try….Thanking You In Anticipation.

  • WritingInstructor

    I'm sorry but I do not know if you can buy it in South Africa. You need to check directly with the manufacturer: http://www.cefaly.ca/site/buynow.

  • christy

    Do you know if you can get it at a cross border pharmacy if you us doctor will write you a prescription for it like they do several medicines that aren't made in the us?