Having a migraine head ache can be one of the most debilitating experiencing that a human being can undergo. The intense pain and hype sensitivity to light can literally cripple a person for hours at a time.
There is now some hope that many migraines can be short circuited before they begin, through use of a device called the transcranial magnetic stimulator. In a recent study, researchers tested a transcranial magnetic stimulator, or TMS for short, on a small group of 43 migraine sufferers. 74 percent of the migraine sufferers reported only mild or no head aches at all after being subjected to magnetic pulses from the TMS device. Full recovery and the ability to work was reported after two hours. No side effects were reported. The results were recently reported at a meeting of the American Headache Society.
The way that a transcranial magnetic stimulator or TMS works is by using magnetic pulses to alter the firing patterns of brain cells in the outermost layer of the brain. During the “aura” stage of a migraine, during which the migraine sufferer experiences flashes of light and blind spots in his or her vision, the pulses interrupt those auras, thus short circuiting the onset of the migraine.
A TMS consists of a coil of wire, encased in plastic, which is held against the scalp. The coil is energized by the rapid discharge of a large capacitor, producing a magnetic field. The magnetic pulse in painless, with the migraine sufferer experiencing only a slight degree of pressure.
Transcranial magnetic stimulators are also being studied as a means to treat a variety of brain disorders, including depression, auditory hallucinations, posttraumatic stress disorder, and drug resistant epilepsy and tinnitus. TMS is being investigated as an alternative for electroconvulsive therapy in certain cases.
Transcranial magnetic stimulators were originally developed in the 1980s as a research tool for neurologists. Repetitive TMS has been used to study how the brain organizes different functions such as language, memory, vision, or attention.
Some twenty eight million Americans suffer from migraine headaches. Migraines are three times more frequent in women than in men. No one is entirely certain what causes migraines, although a recent study has linked them to low levels of a chemical called serotonin in the brain.
Transcranial magnetic stimulators are currently very expensive, costing between twenty five and a hundred thousand dollars. A portable, handheld version has been developed, however. More study and of course FDA approval will be required before migraine sufferers will have this option to treat their migraine headaches. In the meantime, a further study, this time involving two hundred migraine sufferers, is planned.