Migraines cost American taxpayers $13 billion in missed work or reduced productivity annually. In a time of job insecurity and financial vulnerability when stress levels are high and incomes are low, crippling migraines are an ever increasing epidemic. For the 28 million Americans who suffer from recurrent migraines, the accepted treatment is pharmacological therapy. Now a alternative treatment known as neurofeedback has been shown to be a viable treatment option with few side effects for those with recurrent migraine headaches.
This is welcome news for sufferers as the treatment effectiveness of migraine medications is reported to be discouraging. A large majority (84%) of people with migraines state that the drugs do not completely relieve their pain, and sometimes do not even work at all. Another 71% note that their headaches return after treatment, and more than a third report that the drugs are associated with excessive side effects.
Jonathan Walker, M.D., a Dallas, Texas neurologist, recently published a study in the journal Clinical EEG and Neuroscience in which he used quantitative EEG (QEEG) brain imaging to map the brain activity of 71 patients who came for migraine treatment. He discovered a brain activation pattern associated with systemic stress common to every single patient. He then offered to treat anyone in the group using neurofeedback, also known as EEG-biofeedback, instead of drugs. 46 patients elected to undergo neurofeedback and 25 patients decided to remain on medications.
Dr. Walker treated those who opted for neurofeedback with an innovative brain-computer interface developed by BrainMaster Technologies, Inc. of Bedford, Ohio, a leading provider of neurofeedback equipment and technology, for an average of 24 sessions. During treatment sessions, patients were attached to sensors, which tracked their brain waves and delivered real-time visual and auditory information as they entered a specified combination of brainwave conditions associated with relaxation and self-regulation.
At the end of the study, 54% of those participating in neurofeedback experienced a complete elimination of their migraine headaches with no side effects from the neurofeedback therapy. None of those in the pharmaceutical therapy group reported elimination of migraine activity. An additional 39% of the neurofeedback group reported a more than a 50% reduction in migraine frequency, while only 8% of people in the pharmaceutical therapy group reported similar improvement. One person in the neurofeedback group reported no change in headache frequency, while 68% of the pharmaceutical therapy group said their headache frequency had not changed. Statistical analysis reveals a 1 in 100,000 possibility the results were due to chance.
Dr. Walker’s study demonstrates the effectiveness of neurofeedback in treating patients with recurrent migraines with a moderate investment of time and energy, and no apparent risk of side effects.
Material adapted from The Neurotherapy Center of Dallas.
Walker, Jonathan E. (2011). QEEG-Guided Neurofeedback for Recurrent Migraine Headaches, CLINICAL EEG and NEUROSCIENCE, VOL. 42, NO.1.