Deb Spencer of Portland, OR, desperately wanted a life not consumed with pain. After 30 years of experiencing migraine almost daily, she told Fox News it got to the point where, “I used to dread waking up in the morning,” After aggressively pursuing treatment, Deb chose to have the Omega Procedure performed. The result? Her instances of migraine dramatically dropped. Now Deb deals with about two or three mild headaches a month.
Anyone that’s suffered from migraine knows how horribly incapacitating they can be. “[T]he hardest part is the pounding in your head,” writes Jennifer Hines over at TheMighty.com, “It’s so intense, so debilitating, it makes you question your existence.” More severe, chronic cases—which occur in 2 to 3 million Americans —cause people to leave work, avoid socializing, and strain relationships within families. Just knowing that the pain can return at any time is a source of anxiety.
So what is The Omega Procedure: the treatment Deb used? It’s one of a few recent treatments for migraine sufferers that uses what’s known as “Electric Neurostimulation.”
Two emerging devices have pursued electrical stimulation in particular. One is known by the brand Cefaly. The other is what Migraine Centers of America offer: The Omega Procedure. Both provide pain relief, yet both aren’t necessarily the same, nor right for every sufferer. What’s the difference?
Neurostimulation for migraine treatment is essentially an instrument which guides electrical currents to specific parts of the brain. The target areas are where migraine onsets form.
Now, before you think this sounds like something cribbed from the pages of a sci-fi novel, variations of neurostimulation for pain alleviation have been in use for around 40 years. A growing body of research notes it’s effectiveness, often more so than pharmaceutical treatments or other approaches [2,3]. So for many who are searching for relief and have been unsuccessful, neurostimulation may be an option to explore.
Cefaly–Wearable & Non-Invasive
Cefaly is what’s known as an “external trigeminal nerve stimulator” (e-TNS). In layman’s terms, it’s a headset that directs electric currents into the brain through the skin and skull – through the epidermis or the skin – localizing areas thought to be at the root of chronic migraine. They’re worn almost like glasses. It uses an adhesive electrode positioned in the center of the forehead. Since it’s wearable, there’s no need for surgery. And, unlike prescription drugs, there’s no risk of abuse. There may be certain cosmetic concerns (you may think it looks like a high-tech hair band, for instance).
The Omega Procedure
Like its Cefaly counterpart, an Omega device relies on electrical stimulation to target problem areas in the brain as well. However, the main difference is that device is surgically implanted using precise instruments of minimally invasive surgery. The device is powered by a small battery placed underneath the skin in the lower back. Wires then run to twin components in the temples. Even though it’s implanted, the user has control over its current. Wearers have been reported to describe the feeling like flipping a switch to turn off the pain.
Regions of Stimulation
Omega devices stimulate the occipital and supraorbital nerves in the brain. Omega also scrambles the brain’s pain messages to the painful sensations in the face and head. Though one may technically think of them as mild shocks, it’s a far cry from some kind Frankenstein monster. In fact, it’s the permanence of the implants that make them effective. Wearers have access to a remote to regulate the current. By finding a regimen and duration of stimulation that works for them, they, in essence, become in control of their pain.
Control Over the Feeling
Even though the concept of having devices implanted into your brain and back may sound severe, you won’t turn into a cyborg: far from it. Protective measures are diligently held to during surgery. Before it becomes permanently implanted, the Omega Procedure also offers a trial period, so patients can find out both if they’re comfortable with it, and if it works for them. Those with implants are stated to say they rarely feel the device at all, and some even say the electrical vibration is soothing when engaged.
Further, if you have tried Cefaly in the past, you don’t necessarily need to rule out The Omega Procedure. Instances of patients who tried one, then another, have found they are not same, and should therefore not rule out one or the other based on past experiences.
Omega devices may very well change the landscape of migraine treatment. A preliminary study in 2010 found a marked improvement for up to 35 months after the surgery, and the Journal of Headache And Pain reported similar significant long-term results. The latter study described an interesting case in which a 50-year-old woman, whose daily migraine pain accompanied by consistent vomiting and nausea, forced her to resign her job. After the procedure, however, she states, “the headaches promptly and completely resolved,” and was able to return to her normal life’s schedule.
Isn’t that what most of us want: a life not dictated by chronic pain? These few were able to overcome it through use of neurostimulation. We hope more can find the same relief: and freedom.
- Migraine.com. Migraine statistics. Accessed October 26, 2016. https://migraine.com/migraine-statistics/
- Didier HA et al. Electromyography data in chronic migraine patients by using neurostimulation with the Cefaly® device. Neurol Sci. May 2015 Suppl.; 36: 115-119. doi: 10.1007/s10072-015-2154-9
- Reed, KL et al. Combined occipital and supraorbital neurostimulation for the treatment of chronic migraine headaches: Initial experience. Cephalalgia 30(3): 260-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2982.2009.01996.x
- Schoenen, JE et al. Migraine prevention with a supraorbital transcutaneous stimulator: A randomized controlled trial. Neurology 80(8): 697-704. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182825055
- Magis, D et al. Safety and patients’ satisfaction of transcutaneous supraorbital neurostimulation (tSNS) with the Cefaly® device in headache treatment: a survey of 2,313 headache sufferers in the general population. J Headache Pain. 2013 Dec.; 14: 95.
- Miller, S et al. Long term outcomes of occipital nerve stimulation for chronic migraine: a cohort of 53 patients. J Headache Pain. 2016 Dec.; 17 (1): 66.
- Watts, Kelsey. “Have migraines? New treatment now offered in Portland,” Fox 12 News, KPTV, Portland, OR, Sep 24, 2015. Accessed October 26, 2016. http://www.kptv.com/story/30112594/have-migraines-new-treatment-now-offered-in-portland