At the Potash University Alfred Psychiatry Center in Australia, researchers are using an innovative method to treat patients who suffer from serious episodes of depression. Patients whose depressions run so deep that it causes them to go days without eating and even feeling suicidal are receiving strong magnetic impulses applied to portions of their cranium. This is transcranial magnetic stimulation, a treatment that is also being used to bring relief to patients who suffer from chronic migraine episodes.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive treatment method that has received positive guidance from the National Health Service in England to be used by chronic migraine patients. The results from clinical trials conducted in recent months are certainly encouraging: 164 patients who suffer from migraines presaged by visual auras were able to reduce the pain threshold of their headache episode by 39 percent over two hours. They did this by pressing a button on a portable TMS device that delivered a magnetic pulse to their heads.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given clearance to at least one biomedical research company to develop a TMS device for treatment of migraines. Furthermore, an Omaha television news program has reported on the use of TMS devices being used as part of neurological therapy at the Meridian Health Center of Nebraska.
What Is TMS?Over the last few years, neurology researchers have been looking at migraines with visual auras spreading through the cerebral cortex as a wave of neurons. This cortical depression is believed to cause and exacerbate the headache phase of migraine episodes. TMS devices deliver a magnetic pulse through the scalp and down to the cerebral cortex; in turn, this magnetic wave can create a disruption of the ongoing cortical depression, and thus a migraine pain can be significantly reduced without medication or an invasive procedure.
Portable TMS devices hold promise for migraine patients insofar as being part of a reactive treatment strategy. One patient who participated in clinical trials in England reported that she felt confident enough to stop taking her preventive medications after using her TMS device since she was essentially migraine-free for 10 days.
At this point, researchers believe that patients who may benefit the most from TMS therapy are those who:
- Experience visual auras
- Suffer more than two migraine episodes per month
- Experience nausea at the aura or headache phases
How TMS Is Being Used to Treat Migraines
In the United Kingdom, both portable and stationary TMS devices are being recommended by the Association of British Neurologists and the British Association for the Study of Headache. Health practitioners can choose to apply single or repeated magnetic pulses according to the diverse conditions of the migraine patients they treat. The magnetic pulse can be adjusted in terms of intensity, frequency and duration.
The delivery and results of TMS therapy are electronically recorded and added to the migraine diary of each patient. Not all patients will be able to stop taking their usual migraine medications; however, that is one of the goals behind the development of TMS devices.
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