New neuromodulation devices can reduce migraine attacks

Each person’s migraine symptoms are unique, and so is their responsiveness to certain treatments, which is why finding new, innovative ways to provide relief is a priority in migraine research. Neuromodulation devices are an emerging technology that have been shown to prevent and abort migraine attacks for some people. Learn more about how the science behind neuromodulation, the devices currently on the market and what the future might hold for this treatment method.

Understanding Neuromodulation

Neuromodulation is conducted with a device that uses currents or magnets to modulate or change brain activity. Research has found this treatment can be effective in reducing migraine attacks and cluster headaches. Some of these devices can abort attacks, while others are used preventatively. “They all work differently but the rationale is that they’re modulating the activity of the trigeminal nerve pathways,” explains Dr. Rashmi Halker, an Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic.

Current Neuromodulation Treatments

There are currently three FDA-approved neuromodulation devices on the market. The Single Pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator is a handheld device that works by generating a magnetic impulse that affects electrical signaling in the brain. It was first approved for the acute treatment of migraine with aura, and has recently been approved for the preventive treatment of migraine.

The Vagus Nerve Stimulator is a noninvasive handheld tool that uses electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve in the neck. to treat episodic cluster headache attacks. It has recently been approved for the acute treatment of attacks in patients with episodic cluster headache as well as for the acute treatment of migraine pain.

The third type of device, the Transcutaneous Supraorbital Neurostimulator, also uses electrical stimulation to stimulate the supraorbital nerves. The device may be helpful in reducing migraine frequency, and it’s currently FDA-approved for both preventive and acute treatment of migraine.

Barriers to Neuromodulation Treatment

While the technology has proven to be effective, neuromodulation may be cost prohibitive for many patients, Halker said. “We need to develop [neuromodulation devices], but we also need to make them accessible to patients,” she said. Not only will making the devices more widely accessible provide more treatment options to people with migraine, it could also incentivize researchers and manufacturers to develop more neuromodulation devices as an alternative to pharmacological medications, Halker said.

Should I Consider Neuromodulation?

Non-invasive and easy to use, neuromodulation devices are attractive alternatives for people living with migraine. It’s hard to predict which patients will be most responsive to the devices, but it’s a reasonable option for patients who have health issues that prevent them from taking medications, who have contraindications to or tolerability issues with medications, or who are worried about medication overuse headache. “The currently available drug treatments for migraine and cluster have the potential for side effects that are prohibitive for some patients,” Halker says, citing how difficult it can be for some patients to take pills consistently.

Consulting with a headache specialist about your individual situation is the best way to decide whether to try a new treatment method. Find a headache specialist close to you using our Find a Doctor search tool, or learn more about other treatment options in our resource library.