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Practical NeurologyUpdate on Noninvasive Neuromodulation Devices for Headache Treatment

Advances in Noninvasive Neuromodulation: Practical Applications for Headache Treatment and Beyond

Noninvasive neuromodulation devices offer a viable option for managing primary headaches, including migraines and trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (TACs). These devices, which modulate neural activity through various means such as electrical and magnetic fields, have shown efficacy in both acute and preventive treatments. Understanding their mechanisms, appropriate applications, and potential limitations is essential for integrating them into clinical practice, especially given the growing need for alternative headache therapies with minimal adverse events.

Key Points:

  • Definition and Scope:
    • Neuromodulation devices modulate brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerve activity using electricity, magnetic fields, or other modalities.
    • FDA has cleared six noninvasive neuromodulation devices for headache treatment, with minimal adverse events.
  • FDA-Cleared Devices:
    • External Trigeminal Neurostimulation (eTNS): Cleared for both acute and preventive migraine treatment in adults; uses an adhesive electrode on the forehead.
    • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): For preventive migraine treatment; a single unit device attached to the forehead.
    • Single-Pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (sTMS): Cleared for acute and preventive migraine treatment for individuals aged 12 and older; uses magnetic pulses.
    • Noninvasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation (nVNS): For both acute and preventive migraine treatment, and TACs; involves a handheld device placed on the neck.
    • Remote Electrical Neuromodulation (REN): For both acute and preventive migraine treatment; involves a band placed on the arm, activated by a smartphone app.
    • Combined External Occipital-Trigeminal Neurostimulation (COT-NS): Cleared for acute migraine treatment in adults; uses a headband with electrodes.
  • Mechanisms of Action:
    • eTNS and TENS: Send inhibitory signals through supraorbital and supratrochlear branches of the ophthalmic nerve, affecting migraine processing areas.
    • sTMS: Interrupts cortical spreading depolarization and inhibits thalamocortical pain pathways.
    • nVNS: Inhibits cortical spreading depolarization and enhances descending pain modulation.
    • REN: Triggers conditioned pain modulation by stimulating nociceptive afferents in the arm.
    • COT-NS: Combines effects of trigeminal and occipital nerve stimulation, targeting the trigeminal cervical complex.
  • Clinical Trials and Evidence:
    • eTNS: Positive results in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for acute and preventive migraine treatment.
    • TENS: Positive results in RCTs for acute migraine treatment.
    • sTMS: Positive results in RCTs for migraine with aura and preventive open-label trials.
    • nVNS: Positive results for acute episodic cluster headache treatment, but mixed results for migraine.
    • REN: Positive results in sham-controlled trials for both acute and preventive migraine treatment.
    • COT-NS: Positive RCT results for acute migraine treatment.
  • Practical Implications:
    • Noninvasive neuromodulation devices offer a medication-free option for headache management, beneficial for patients with contraindications to drugs or those planning pregnancy.
    • These devices can be integrated into treatment plans as monotherapy or adjunctive therapy.
    • Access to these devices is often limited by insurance coverage, requiring advocacy for broader acceptance and reimbursement.
  • Patient Selection and Use:
    • Suitable for patients with inadequate response to traditional migraine medications, those at risk of medication-overuse headache, and individuals preferring non-pharmacological treatments.
    • Recommended for tech-savvy patients, women planning pregnancy, and those with chronic migraine or multiple medication interactions.
    • Requires patient education on device use, adherence, and appropriate integration into their treatment regimen.
  • Access and Coverage:
    • The US VA Health Care System provides coverage for most FDA-approved devices, but coverage by other insurers is limited.
    • Some devices are available without prescription online; others require a prescription and may face insurance reimbursement challenges.

Migraines are relatively common, affecting around 12% to 15% of the population worldwide. Chronic migraine is less common, and experts estimate 1% to 2.2% of people worldwide have this condition.

More on Migraines/Headaches

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