Drug Free Migraine Research with Electric Stimulation

January 17, 2013

What if you could derive the benefits of powerful painkillers, without the unpleasant side effects increased risk for chemical dependency, in a drug free migraine treatment?  Chronic migraine sufferers unfortunately must often rely on powerful narcotics or opioids when over the counter or even prescription medication doesn’t help abate symptoms of pain and nausea.  For some of these people, a migraine procedure like neurostimulation can be the ideal long-term solution for relief that isn’t possible from any other therapy.

University of Michigan scientists recently found that applying an electrical current to certain areas of the brain, in a subject with chronic trigeminal neuropathic pain (face pain), stimulates the release of painkilling chemicals within the brain.  These powerful substances are similar to opiates, which are sometimes prescribed for severe pain.    This study expands the possibilities for developing drug free migraine treatments.

This research also suggests some explanation for earlier findings from scientists at the University of Michigan, City University of New York and Harvard.   In that study, individuals with chronic migraines received electrical impulses to their skulls through attached sensors.  Although the subjects’ pain level and intensity decreased, the researchers were not exactly certain how this occurred.

A neurostimulation procedure is similar in that electrical impulses to the brain interfere with the mechanisms involved with completing the pain circuitry that occurs with migraines.  In the more recent University of Michigan study, a radio-tracer was injected into the subject that measured a decrease in the accessible levels of mu-opioid receptors.  When powerful opioid drugs are ingested they bind to these receptors to treat pain.  This indicated that the electrical stimulation in fact caused the body to release mu-opioid, which binds to the receptors.

For individuals with chronic migraines, any drug free migraine treatment such as  neurostimulation or potentially the transcranial current stimulation used in this research, offers a path to avoid the dependence of powerful and addictive pharmaceuticals.  The results of the study were published in the Frontiers In Psychiatry journal.

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