It looks like a plastic box with a handle on both sides. Inside the box, there’s a coil of copper wire. First the unit is plugged into a standard outlet to receive a charge. Then the device is placed against the back of the head. An electrical current running through the copper coil creates a weak magnetic field. The magnetic field passes through the skull, generating a small current in an area of the brain, called the occipital lobe.
Currently, transcranial magnetic stimulation is aimed at migraine patients with aura. William Young, M.D., a Neurologist with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, says during a migraine aura there is a wave of electrical activity in the brain that lasts for about 20 minutes. The “migraine zapper” aims to short-circuit this electrical activity and hopefully prevent the onset of migraine symptoms.
In one small study, 32 percent of participants had no migraine symptoms after one treatment. In the remaining patients, pain levels decreased by 75 percent. Currently, researchers are finishing another clinical trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation in migraine patients with aura. They are also studying the effectiveness of the treatment for patients without aura. However, it may be less useful for this group since the treatment must be given before the onset of symptoms Many of those who don’t have an aura can’t tell when they are getting a headache.
The trial is still ongoing, but no longer recruiting. The manufacturer, Neuralieve, hopes to obtain FDA approval sometime this year. Some researchers say repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation can cause side effects, like ringing in the ears, memory problems, muscle tension headache, neck ache or induction of seizures. However, Neuralieve says the device is very safe. The magnetic pulse is very short, lasting only a fraction of a second and providing only about 1/1000th of the magnetic force in an MRI exam.
Young says transcranial magnetic stimulation should not be used by patients who have pacemakers or implanted devices in their head. For information on the migraine zapper: Neuralieve, http://www.neuralieve.com