When migraine is a regular, unwelcome part of daily life, sufferers are constantly on the search for new ways to treat or prevent attacks. From pain management and lifestyle strategies to oral medication and surgical intervention, there are numerous way to combat the pain of migraine. And because migraine is such a complex condition, with multiple different triggers and manifestations, no one treatment works for everyone. Migraineurs can often go for years before they find an effective, reliable form of treatment.
According to the National Headache Foundation, over 37 million Americans suffer from migraine, and many of them find it difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. Reports indicate that less than half of sufferers have their condition correctly identified since migraine is often mistaken for a sinus or tension headache.
Once you do get a diagnosis, however, many different forms of treatment options open up.
One of the latest treatments available is via a small device called Cefaly.
What Does a Cefaly Machine Do?
The Cefaly is a somewhat futuristic, science-fiction-looking headband that sits across the front of the forehead and extends over the ears. The FDA categorizes it as a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation unit (commonly known as TENS). It would, however, be more accurately described as an external trigeminal nerve stimulation (eTNS) unit.
It works by sending small electrical impulses to the trigeminal nerve, which is strongly linked to migraine pain. Many of the surgical procedures designed to relieve pain in sufferers have a similar effect in relieving pressure on the trigeminal nerve.
This small device should not be confused with other TENS units which are unsuitable for use in migraine treatment.
How Cefaly Works
A small, self-adhesive electrode sits under the front of the unit. Powered by regular Triple-A batteries, micro-electrical impulses are passed through the skin via the electrode to the main branches of the trigeminal nerves. These run from the forehead to the brain stem where pain signals are received. This neurostimulation limits the pain signals so severity is greatly reduced or completely eliminated.
The Cefaly, which changes the migraine pain threshold, can be used for both treatment and prevention.
How Cefaly Is Used
The device is simple to use. Using a mirror, users place the self-adhesive electrode on their forehead just above the eyebrows and then lower the device over the electrode until it engages with a pin.
With Cefaly in place, the user pushes a button to start the session. In operation, the machine creates a tingling sensation which some people find a little unpleasant to start with. The intensity is controllable, so it should never feel unduly uncomfortable, and can be gradually increased over time. The manufacturers recommend this gradual increase of as this makes the treatment more effective. Cefaly sessions last for around 20 minutes daily when used to prevent migraine attacks.
The device itself is guaranteed for two years and comes with three packs of electrodes. Each electrode is designed to last for up to 20 uses.
Clinical Studies into its Effectiveness
Small clinical trials conducted in Belgium produced the positive results which prompted FDA approval of the Cefaly device in 2014.
The 67 people involved in the trial had been medication free for three months before the start of the trial, ensuring that the results they obtained were not skewed by other treatments. As a further safeguard, a separate group was given a placebo device. When the results between the two groups were compared, it was found that those who used the Cefaly experienced significantly fewer migraine attacks, and as a result had less need for migraine medication.
The FDA also base their approval on a patient satisfaction survey which included many more people in France as well as Belgium. Of the 2,300 migraine sufferers taking part in the survey, over half were so pleased with the result that they said they’d be willing to buy a machine for continued use.
How to Get a Cefaly Device
Cefaly is only available on prescription order from your doctor, and is currently not covered by health insurance.
At the time of writing (March 2016) the device costs around $350 and is an out-of-pocket expense. Replacement electrodes are $25 for three. Standard, good quality batteries are readily available to power the machine.
Despite being new on the market, the early results and feedback from users is promising. For those who experience side effects or intolerances to conventional oral medications, those for whom surgical interventions are not possible, or even for people who want to try a different from of treatment, the Cefaly offers a viable alternative that’s worth exploring.