Zap goes the migraine

This week’s highlight was one of those great research stories that just sound so – well – unlikely. A device that emits magnetic pulses may be a cure for some types of migraine headache.

There’s no point rubbing your forehead with a fridge magnet next time you get a headache, though. For one thing, it’s not that type of magnet. For another, it only works for migraine with aura. Auras are unusual sensations that can involve flashing lights, dizzy spells, sound disturbances or pins-and-needles.

They seem to be caused by a wave of electrical signals sweeping over the cortex of the brain, leaving the brain cells, um, depolarised. Yes, I know, sounds like something Doctor Who might fix with his sonic screwdriver. But bear with me. The single-pulse magnet device re-polarises the brain cells and aborts or relieves the headache. That’s the theory, and in the (properly-done, double-blind randomised controlled) trial, it worked for about 4 in 10 migraineurs.

My colleague read my careful explanation of how it might work, then sent me an email: ‘You never said it was a zapper. The Daily Mail explains it much more clearly.’ And indeed, who can argue with a Daily Mail graphic? They say so much, yet, on reflection, so little.



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