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What Is Neuromodulation, and How Can It Help Manage Migraine?

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Migraine treatment comes in many different forms. Not only that, but all patients have their own preferences about how to best address their migraines. Some people take medicine, while others sometimes see success with lifestyle changes. But there are other ways to treat migraine.

Neuromodulation refers to a number of different nonmedical devices used to treat migraine. They either prevent migraine or stop migraine attacks. Typically, if the neuromodulation devices are preventive, it’s used on a daily basis and sometimes a few times a day. If it’s just as needed, you may only use it a handful of times over the course of a week or month.

Here’s a breakdown of neuromodulation, including why people seek it out, it’s possible side effects, and how to talk to your doctor about this nonmedical form of treatment.

Why Neuromodulation?

Neuromodulation is often well-tolerated, and the side effects pretty minimal. Sometimes, you can see additional benefits when using neuromodulation with medications that you’re currently taking.

If you’re not on medication, neuromodulation can help you gain preventive benefits without committing to a certain medication. This ability to avoid medication is why neuromodulation attracts so many patients.

Some of these neuromodulation treatments are safe alternatives during pregnancy. While most of these devices have not been studied during pregnancy to measure its safety benefits, avoiding other medications in favor of neuromodulation is, so far, considered to be the safer option.

Cons and Side Effects

Depending on the device, neuromodulation side effects are typically very minimal. Some devices can be somewhat painful on the skin when they are used, but the main downside could be ineffectiveness.

Medications, which may have additional side effects, can also be more potent and a little more beneficial. This tradeoff should be taken into consideration. Another downside is that many of these devices are not covered by insurance. This means that the costs associated with these treatments can be an issue. To learn more about what might be a viable option for you, talk to your doctor.

Talking to Your Doctor

A great way to start the conversation is to specifically ask your doctor about some of the devices that you may have heard of. You could also simply ask your doctor about different nonmedical treatments for migraine. It’s a good idea to ask your doctor if there are any devices that they would recommend based on your current situation.

There are many different types of devices — wearables that you put on your head or arm or stimulators that you put on your neck or towards that back of your head. Each of these have different indications and a different variable efficacy based on what the patient has. It is important that you figure out with your doctor which device will best help with your personal needs so you can incorporate it into your treatment plan.

Key Takeaway

The most important thing people should realize is that neuromodulation exemplifies how far we have come over the last few years in developing migraine treatments. Just five or six years ago, none of these devices even existed. Now there is a whole burgeoning subsection of treatments with minimal side effects that can be helpful in combination with other treatments — or all on their own. Fortunately, we’re in a golden age for headache medicine. More neuromodulation devices like these are in the pipeline, meaning more people with migraine will be able to more effectively treat their symptoms.

For more about migraine, check out these articles  by Dr. Berk: 

Image via Getty Images/ puszaya.
Originally published: February 4, 2020
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