A hand-held device that painlessly sends a magnetic pulse into the head may offer some migraine sufferers relief, a small study suggests.
The device delivers a therapy known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. It sparks a magnetic pulse that, when held against a person's head, creates an electric current among the nerves cells of the brain.
This, in turn, disrupts migraines in the "aura" phase, before they trigger pain.
Though migraines strike without warning in most cases, some people experience an aura stage, which is marked by visual disturbances, like flashes of light or zigzag lines, or other sensations such as tingling or numbness.
For the new study, researchers recruited 201 patients suffering from migraine with aura, then randomly assigned them to use the TMS device or a "sham" device the investigators used for comparison. Patients were instructed to apply the device over the site of the migraine, at its onset.
The researchers found that two hours after treatment, 39 percent of the TMS patients were pain-free, versus 22 percent of patients using the sham device.
Dr. Yousef Mohammad, of The Ohio State University in Columbus, reported the findings Friday at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society, underway in Boston.
"This is very significant," Mohammad told Reuters Heath. "This is a much better response than is achieved with any other method or medication that we have."
In some study patients, the treatment also eased migraine-related symptoms of nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.
"This is very highly significant," Mohammad said. "We have never received this kind of response" with any currently available migraine medication or device.
Sunnyvale, California-based NeuraLieve, the manufacturer of the TMS device used in the study, funded the work. Mohammad serves on the company's board of directors.