"Migraineurs" experiencing regular disabling headaches might find relief in a daily dose of electricity.
Belgian neurologist Jean Schoenen from Liege University and his colleagues randomly allocated 67 migraine sufferers to receive, over a 90 period, either 20 minutes per day of self-applied electrical stimulation delivered using a pad applied to the forehead, or a "sham" (placebo) treatment using similar equipment.
The subjects, who did not know whether they were receiving the active or sham treatments, were asked to keep diaries of their migraine attacks during the treatment period.
Before the trial started, the participants had also logged their headache episodes for 30 days to establish a baseline for comparison.
Dubbed PREMICE (prevention of migraine using the STS Cefaly), the study showed a 30% drop in migraine days amongst the volunteers given the real treatment. This was reflected in a drop of 37% in the use of anti-migraine drugs amongst the treated participants but not amongst the control (sham) group whose analgesic consumption remained about the same.
Writing in Neurology, the team admit that the mechanism by which their intervention blocks migraine attacks isn't clear. The device delivers a small 16 mA current, stimulating to the supratrochlear and supraorbital sensory nerves, which supply the forehead region.
The resulting activity induced in these nerves could, the team speculate, be transmitted to central neural networks concerned with pain or migraine responses, altering the migraine threshold.
Previously, scientists have shown that magnetic stimulation can be used to block migraine attacks once they begin, most likely by damping down the waves of abnormal brain activity that appear to trigger the condition.
But this is the first time that a simple, readily-available piece of kit, not dissimilar to the TENS machines used to give pain relief to other parts of the body including during child-birth, has been shown to be effective.