Thirty-two-year old Nitish Shah still has a vivid recollection of his first migraine attack he experienced during school days. Within a decade, the frustrating headaches became chronic and debilitating. Despite undergoing many treatments, he still lives in agonising anticipation of the onset of those painful and blurry days.
Unlike Shah, 39-year-old Preeti Neelesh from Bengaluru leads a calm life. She too is a migraine patient, but has discovered a new device that helped ease her pain to a relieving extent. She uses Cefaly, a neurostimulation device, that is becoming popular as a drug-free method for treating migraine pain. “I have tried numerous medical solutions to find a way out of the debilitating migraines but they were of no help. This device has been a boon, the intensity and frequency of the migraines have come down drastically on regular usage of the device,” says Preeti.
Scientists have been working on many ways to treat these chronic and debilitating headaches. Although there are effective drug treatments for migraines, they can have plenty of side-effects too. However, recently, a medical device has been developed by Belgium-based Cefaly Technologies that aims to provide an alternative treatment with fewer and more tolerable side-effects. This device uses cranial neuro-stimulation, a technique that has been in usage for a number of years in neurology. But is now being used differently without any implantation, by using a simple, light-weight device positioned around the forehead.
Cefaly was approved for use in the US by FDA in March last year while in Europe and Canada, among other countries, it has been in usage since four to six years. This is the first transcutaneous (passing through the skin) electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device granted marketing by FDA for use before the onset of a migraine.
Dr Prashanth Dinesh, President of Everest Healthcare which brought the device to India, says: “It is an alternative form of treatment for migraines but not a magic bullet. This device was launched in Bengaluru and Chennai in October and we are planning to expand to other states shortly. Neurologists in both the cities are well aware of this device, and we have also seen several positive patient experiences with this technology.”
This is an easy and practical device. To begin with, a self-adhesive electrode is placed on the forehead. The Cefaly device is worn like a pair of spectacles, and once in position, it connects to the electrode. It has been programmed for various levels of stimulation. On pressing a button, a 20-minute treatment session begins automatically and a sensation of tingling starts. If it becomes a little too intense, pressing once again on the button stabilises the intensity, stopping it from increasing any further during the session. Initially, some people may experience pain or a weird sensation but once the treatment is over, they may feel relaxed or even sleepy. One should not use the device, if they have external injuries on the face or forehead.
Studies have shown that there is a 50 per cent decrease in migraine days per month but only if used as prescribed for 20 minutes per day regularly and for at least 40 days. “This device is a promising new modality to treat migraine with a good safety profile. It can also be used in pregnant women who are not allowed to take several medications during their pregnancy. Patients using this device regularly have shown a consistent and significant reduction in their migraine headaches and improvement in their quality of life,” says Dr Pramod Krishnan, consultant neurologist and epileptologist of Manipal Hospitals.