Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

Mild electrical current found to prevent migraine attacks


April 30, 2012

A new study has shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can prevent migraines from occurring (Image: Shutterstock)

A new study has shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can prevent migraines from occurring (Image: Shutterstock)

Image Gallery (2 images)

It’s hard to convey the pain of a migraine to those who are fortunate enough not to suffer them. Compounding things, many sufferers get no relief from, or cannot tolerate, commonly prescribed or over-the-counter pain medications. Now researchers have shown that applying a mild electrical current to the brain via electrodes attached to the scalp can prevent migraines from occurring and reduce the severity and duration of those that do occur.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, thirty-six million Americans suffer from migraine, with 14 million of them experiencing chronic daily headaches. Although existing brain stimulation technologies can help relieve a migraine that is already underway, the fact that chronic migraine sufferers can have over 15 attacks a month and the equipment is heavy and unwieldy makes treatment difficult.

While some techniques that stimulate deep brain regions require brain surgery for the implantation of electrodes, the new approach relies on transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which only requires a strong connection between the skin and the electrodes. It is currently used to treat some psychological disorders, in the motor rehabilitation in stroke patients, and is safe, portable and easy to use. It might also improve your mathematical skills for up to six months.

A team, including Dr. Marom Bikson, associate professor of biomedical engineering in CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering, Dr. Alexandre DaSilva at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and Dr. Felipe Fregni at Harvard Medical School, found that repeated tDCS sessions reduced the duration and pain intensity of migraines that did occur by an average of around 37 percent.

“We developed this technology and methodology in order to get the currents deep into the brain,” said Bikson. “If it’s possible to help some people get just 30 percent better, that’s a very meaningful improvement in quality of life.”

According to the team’s computational models, tDCS delivers a therapeutic current along the brain’s pain network, a collection of interconnected brain regions involved in perceiving and regulating pain. The team says the technology seems to reverse ingrained changes in the brain caused by chronic migraine, such as greater sensitivity to headache triggers.

The improvements accumulated over the four weeks of treatment, with the effects lasting for months. The only side effect reported by the test subjects was a mild tingling sensation experienced when receiving the treatment. Professor Bikson says a patient could potentially use the system every day to ward off attacks, or periodically, like a booster shot.

“You can walk around with it and keep it in your desk drawer or purse. This is definitely the first technology that operates on just a 9-volt battery and can be applied at home,” said Bikson, who envisions the future development of units as small as an iPod.

The team now plans to scale up clinical trials to a larger study population on the path to hopefully developing a market-ready version of the tDCS in a few years.

The team has published the results of their recent study in the journal Headache.

Source: City College of New York

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I have used tDCS for the treatment of chronic pain for the last 4 years. Beside reducing the severity and frequency of migraines, tDCS is effective for the relief of chronic daily headaches. In addition, cathodal tDCS can relieve acute migraine. This mechanism is probably similiar to the effect of tDCS to reduce epileptic seizures.

tDCS is especially effective for treatment resistant depression and complex regional pain syndrome. Because of the safety, ease of use and low cost of the tDCS device, home use is a viable option. Also, this facilitates longer and more effective protocols.

James Fugedy

The migraines I suffer are as minimal as anything that can be called a migraine but that said. Were do I go to get this!


This would be a great device. My migranes incapacitate me for up to three days, which consists of sleeping upright and walking the house for all hours of the night. If I had one of these I know I could become more productive on a daily basis. I'm glad they finally invented a device to stop the pain.

Tom Crombie

i have used the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator for more than a decade using the technique described by dr. julian kenyon of uk for more than 91 disorders. it works for me and also with others. is this the same as tdcs? thank you

automotive concerns

The website www.transcranialbrainstimulation.com provides information about tDCS and its clinical applications, as well as, links to other pertinent sites.

tDCS utilizes direct current to produce effects. TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) uses alternating current. Only 2 frequencies are really effective for producing pain relief with TENS, 2 Hz and 100 Hz which affect the opioid receptors. Any other frequency merely provides a distraction. TENS is not recommended for use above neck, but recent studies have used TENS devices to stimulate the vagus and trigeminal nerves (of the head and face) to relieve anxiety and epilepsy.

James Fugedy

James, Is this being used in the U.S.? Are you currently getting treatment at a doctor's office, outpatient facility, or hospital? From the material I've found, it seems the portable unit is not in use. Are they officially using tDCS for treatment of migraines or just chronic pain? Cheri

Cheryl Thomas Brown
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles