Relief for migraine sufferers

Migraine affects eight million people in the UK , according to the Migraine Trust. Sufferers experience recurring headaches, with other symptoms including sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and changes in vision. The World Health Organisation classifies severe migraine as among the most disabling illnesses. Alongside the physical symptoms comes ‘nagging anxiety and fear’, according to Margaret, who had been a sufferer for 30 years. ‘You worry when you’ll have the next one.’ This sense of lack of control causes more stress, which may increase the risk of a migraine. For the past three months, however, Margaret has trialled a new device called Cefaly, which is helping to reduce the number and severity of attacks.

Margaret’s attacks typically start with a ‘horrid sickening pain’ flowing from her forehead around branches of the trigeminal nerve on the right side of her head. Cefaly aims to reduce the sensitivity of the main branch of the trigeminal nerve (on both sides, as sufferers may have one or other side affected). It is authorised by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA ) as an alternative to medication for preventing or treating attacks and as safe to use from age eight and by pregnant women.

Cefaly works like Tens (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machines, which use electrical impulses to block or reduce the body’s pain signals, and to boost natural painkillers called endorphins. Tens have been used for decades for aches and pains but Cefaly is the first device designed to target head pain.

‘You stick an electrode to the centre of your forehead to make contact with the trigeminal nerve, then wear a light tiara-like headset that clips on to the electrode and delivers stimulation to the nerve endings,’ she explains.

‘The sensations, like pins and needles, increase in intensity as the electrical impulses increase, but you can press a button to keep them in your comfort zone. I lie down for the 20-minute recommended [preventative] daily session – that’s my pre-bedtime ritual. At the end, waves of relaxation wash over my forehead.’ Cefaly can also be used for longer stints to help reduce the length and severity of an attack.

Sinol MCefaly does not claim to be a miracle cure but clinical research cited by the US FDA suggests it is as effective as many drug treatments, with negligible side effects. For Margaret the investment is worthwhile. ‘I do still suffer from migraines, particularly around periods [hormones are a trigger for many female sufferers]. But I can often head off a full-blown attack by using Cefaly plus Sinol M [a natural nasal spray with capsaicin, which also targets the trigeminal nerve].

‘Having these tools gives me back control and I now lose fewer days to migraine.’

Cefaly, £249 with a six-week refundable guarantee, plus a set of three multi-use electrodes, £19.99, both from www.cefaly.co.uk. • Sinol M, £16 for 15ml, www.victoriahealth.com. • Migraine Trust, www.migrainetrust.org.

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Feature, News, Well BeingTania Smith