If this year’s meeting had a keynote address, it was around the inventor of the magnetic pulse generator for neuro-modulation. In laymen’s terms, this means using a pulse of very strong magnetic energy to cause neurons to fire (or in some cases cease from firing). This technology has been experimented with since the early 1980s.
Regarding headaches, about ten years ago we began to study using these devices with migraine sufferers. At first it was strictly an experimental adventure trying to learn more about the migraine brain. Then it was discovered that if you use this pulse of magnetic energy at the precise moment of the start of a migraine aura, it would arrest the aura and prevent the actual head pain from developing. Like with any FDA approval process, it has taken almost a decade to do all the research to prove that this kind of device is effective and safe.
The magnetic pulse generation has been approved for headache treatment in Europe and now in the US. The device will not be available on the market until probably March of 2015.
While this device will only be approved to stop the aura and subsequent headache of migraine with aura, there is some preliminary support that using it once a day might prevent headaches from coming for some patients.
The good news about this, is that is completely medication free. There also appears to be no side effects. If you place the magnetic over a different area of the brain than the back (which is the visual cortex and the area with aura usually starts) that part of the brain will respond with the corresponding muscle jerks.
If there is a down side it will be the expense of the technology. This is an extremely powerful magnetic field that has taken over twenty years to dial in through technology to reduce the size and make it most effective. The original devices were the size of a Mini Cooper. Now, they are hand-held and will hopefully get even smaller. But this kind of technology will come at a price. My major concern is that the insurance companies will not pay for it because most don’t see headache as a significant disorder so paying $2,000 for a device that could significantly reduce a person’s experience with headaches may not be on their radar.
The other issue that I’m seeing played out already is where patients start to hear that “magnets help headaches” and buy sham devices that have small permanent magnets on them to cure their headaches. Small magnets worn as a necklace or bracelet have one purpose and that is to make money for the seller. They do nothing for headaches. This magnetic pulse generator creates a pulse that is a million times more powerful than these little magnets. It takes a force that strong to penetrate the skull.