Do Scents Make You Sick?

By Pat Anson, Editor

One in three Americans suffers adverse health effects – such as migraines and asthma attacks – when exposed to air fresheners, cleaning supplies, perfume and other scented consumer products, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne polled over 1,100 Americans in an online survey and found that nearly all were exposed to fragranced products at least once a week at home, work, or in public places such as stores or hospitals.

Almost 35% reported adverse health effects such as breathing difficulties, migraine headaches, asthma attacks, skin rashes, dizziness, nausea, and other medical problems. For half of these individuals, the problems are so severe they are potentially disabling, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"This is a huge problem; it's an epidemic," said Professor Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne School of Engineering, who is an expert on the health effects of environmental pollutants.

"Basically, if it contained a fragrance, it posed problems for people."

The study found that fragranced products may affect the bottom lines of many businesses. Over 20 percent of respondents said if they entered a store or business and smelled an air freshener or some fragranced product, they would leave as quickly as possible. And more than twice as many customers would choose hotels and airplanes without fragranced air than with fragranced air.

In the workplace, over 15% of respondents said they became sick, lost workdays or even lost a job due to exposure to fragranced products. Over half said they would prefer fragrance-free workplaces and health care facilities.

Even hygiene is impacted by fragrances. Nearly one in five said they are unable or reluctant to use toilets in public places because of the presence of an air freshener, deodorizer or scented product. And 14 percent said they would be reluctant to wash their hands in a public restroom because the soap might be scented.

“Adverse effects resulting from exposure to fragranced products, such as in workplaces and public places, raise concerns about liability,” said Steinemann. “For instance, individuals can suffer acute health effects, such as an asthma attack, if they enter a restroom that uses air fresheners. If they are unable to access a restroom due to the presence of an air freshener, then that poses a potential violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Two out of three survey respondents were not aware that fragranced products often emit hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, and 72% were not aware that even so-called natural, green, and organic fragranced products emit hazardous air pollutants.

“Fragranced product manufacturers are not required to disclose all ingredients in their formulations. This lack of disclosure can impede efforts to understand and reduce adverse effects associated with potentially harmful compounds,” Steinemann wrote. “Further, we lack knowledge on which specific chemicals or mixtures of chemicals are associated with the adverse effects, and this is an important area for research.”

The study findings are published in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health.

Experimental Drug Reduces Migraine Days by Half

Pat Anson, Editor

An experimental injectable drug reduces the number of migraine days by 50 percent or more in patients who suffer from chronic migraine, according to the results of a new study released by drug makers Amgen and Novartis.

The Phase II study of AMG 334 -- also known as erenumab – involved 667 patients who suffered an average of about 18 migraine days per month.  A reduction of 50% or more in monthly migraine days was observed in four out of ten patients taking a 140 mg dose of erenumab. Patients taking a 70 mg dose had a 40% reduction in migraine days compared to a placebo drug. 

Significant improvements were also noted in quality of life, headache impact, disability, and pain interference compared to the placebo.

“Chronic migraine patients lose more than half of their life to migraines with 15 or more headache days a month, facing intolerable pain and physical impairment,” said Stewart Tepper, MD, a professor of neurology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. “As a neurologist, these findings are exciting because they demonstrate that erenumab could serve as an important new therapy option for reducing the burden of this often-disabling disease.”

Erenumab is not an opiate and falls under a newer class of medications – known as fully human monoclonal antibodies -- that target receptors in the brain where migraines are thought to originate.

“Erenumab is specifically designed to prevent migraine by blocking a receptor that is believed to have a critical role in mediating the incapacitating pain of migraine,” said Sean Harper, MD, executive vice president of Research and Development at Amgen, which is co-developing the drug with Novartis.

“The results from this global chronic migraine study are exciting because they support the efficacy of erenumab for a patient population that has had few therapeutic options.”

Results from two Phase III studies of erenumab for episodic migraine are expected later this year. If positive results are achieved, that could lead to a new drug application with the Food and Drug Administration.

"This is an exciting time in the treatment of chronic migraine, which has a profound impact on the lives of those who suffer from the disease," said Vasant Narasimhan, Global Head of Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer for Novartis. "These important data further support the efficacy of AMG 334 in patients who currently have limited therapeutic options."

Under its agreement with Novartis, Amgen holds sales rights for erenumab in the United States, Canada and Japan, while Novartis would sell the drug in Europe and the rest of the world.

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. About half of people living with migraine are undiagnosed.

Many Multiple Sclerosis Patients Misdiagnosed

By Pat Anson, Editor

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that attacks the body’s central nervous system, causing pain, numbness, difficulty walking, paralysis, loss of vision, and fatigue. Patients diagnosed with MS face enormous physical, emotional and financial challenges coping with a disease that cannot be cured.

Many also discover that they don’t actually have MS.

A new study published in the journal Neurology looks at 110 patients who were incorrectly diagnosed with MS when they actually suffered from more common and treatable conditions such as migraine and fibromyalgia.   

One third of the patients were misdiagnosed for a decade or longer, most took unnecessary and potentially harmful medication to treat a disease they didn't have, and some even participated in clinical trials for experimental MS therapies.

About a third suffered from “unnecessary morbidity” – morbid thoughts of death.

"Misdiagnosis of MS is common; patients may experience common MS symptoms, such as numbness and weakness with a variety of different conditions, many that are more common and less serious than multiple sclerosis," says the study's senior author Brian Weinshenker, MD, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic.

"With the advent of treatments for MS, many physicians feel pushed to reach an early diagnosis, and may be less strict than they should in requiring more specific symptoms or objective neurological findings before making a diagnosis of MS.”

Unlike other chronic illnesses, there is no specific biomarker or blood test for MS. The nerve damage caused by MS is also associated with a wide range of symptoms, many of which are also caused by other conditions such as Lyme disease, lupus, fibromyalgia, and Vitamin B12 deficiency.

Some diagnostic tests for MS, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can also be misinterpreted.

“Nonspecific MRI abnormalities that can mimic those of MS are very common in healthy individuals, and widespread use of MRI as a diagnostic tool increases the rate of misdiagnosis," said Weinshenker.

The 110 patients included in the study were identified by MS subspecialist neurologists at Mayo Clinic, University of Vermont, Washington University and Oregon Health & Science University.

Twenty two percent of the misdiagnosed patients actually had migraine; 15% had fibromyalgia; 12% had a nonspecific condition flagged by an abnormal MRI; 11% had a conversion or psychogenic disorder; and 6% had neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder.

"This study suggests significant and long-term unnecessary risks for these patients," said lead author Andrew Solomon, MD, a neurologist at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. "While there may be different reasons for misdiagnoses by subspecialists and nonspecialists, this study suggests that we all make mistakes, and I think we can all do better.”

A previous survey of MS specialists found that more than 95% had seen at least one patient in the past year that was misdiagnosed with MS by another provider.

Some treatments for MS carry serious side effects. One drug, taken by 13 percent of the misdiagnosed patients in the current study, can cause a potentially fatal brain infection. Other patients suffered from the discomfort and inconvenience of daily injections; others experienced side effects from medications or lacked treatment for the conditions they actually had.

There are also enormous financial costs involved. The cost of medications to treat MS in the United States now exceeds $50,000 a year.

"Premature diagnosis of MS should be avoided," says Weinshenker. "When in doubt, physicians often can defer a diagnosis if it is not clear that there is a serious neurological problem or if a patient is stable. Physicians should request a second opinion when they are unsure but concerned that it might be harmful to delay a definitive diagnosis of MS."

Weinshenker and Solomon hope their study will encourage better education of clinicians on the proper use of MS diagnostic criteria and to further studies on how to recognize patients incorrectly diagnosed with MS.

Updated Device Helps Prevent Migraines

By Pat Anson, Editor

A new pocket-sized wearable device is available to help treat and prevent migraine headaches.

Cefaly Technology has released the Cefaly II, an updated version of the Cefaly I, which is worn over the forehead like a headband and uses small electrical impulses to stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which has been associated with migraine headaches.

The Cefaly II is much smaller and fits in the palm of a hand. Like its predecessor, the device is worn on the forehead, but is held more securely in place by a magnet. Because of its smaller size, the manufacturer believes the Cefaly II will be more accessible and easier to use.

“This compact device is so easy to tuck in a pocket or purse and I am hopeful it will further increase compliance and bring an even larger reduction in migraine attacks to patients,” said Dr. Pierre Rigaux, Chief Executive Officer of Belgium-based Cefaly Technology.

“Now that the device is so small, it’s a big deal because patients can have their Cefaly II with them wherever they go, which means they’ll be able to use it more readily, at their most convenient time.”

cefaly technology image

cefaly technology image

The Cefaly II uses a magnet to attach itself to a self-adhesive electrode worn directly on the forehead. The rechargeable, battery powered device sends tiny electrical impulses through the skin to desensitize the upper branches of the trigeminal nerve and reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Patients have full control of their daily 20-minute session and can ramp up the intensity to their own comfort level.

In a small study of 20 migraine sufferers, published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, the Cefaly I provided "statistically significant" pain relief and an 81 percent reduction in the number of migraine attacks. Patients in the study also said they used significantly less migraine medication.

The electrode and output of the Cefaly II is identical to the Cefaly I, according to the company.

Here’s a company produced video of how the Cefaly II works:

The Cefaly II is only available by prescription and costs $349, with a 60-day money back guarantee. The device can be ordered online by clicking here. The Cefaly I will no longer be offered, but the electrodes for it will be available for another 5 years. Cefaly Technology has sold about 20,000 of the devices in United States and 80,000 outside the U.S.

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound.

My 50 Years with Chronic Pain

By Carol Hansen, Guest Columnist

I am a 71 year old woman living with chronic pain.  When I was in my 20’s I started having severe migraine headaches, at least two per month.  It was hard to do anything. They lasted at least 3 days, leaving me wiped out!

I also cared for my grandparents in my home until they died. My grandmother also had migraines when she was younger.  She shared with me that when I got older my headaches would go away and she was correct.

I had some aunts that had fibromyalgia, which at that time no one knew what it was.  I knew my grandmother’s pain level was high, because she was on opiates.  Her doctor gave her a high dose so she was hooked on these medications. 

Doctors used to prescribe a lot of pain medication, thinking that was all they could do for pain patients. Even then they did not want to deal with us. I was always afraid of pain medication because I observed my grandmother’s life.  After my grandparents passed away our lives naturally changed.

We enjoyed time with our young family.  Still my migraines were very hard on me and fibromyalgia slowed me down.  Yet I still had bluebirds and was a Sunday school teacher, along with a full schedule helping teachers and caring for my children.

In 1981, I was trying to start the heater in our camper when the camper blew up, leaving me with third degree burns. The company that repaired our camper had left all the gas lines disconnected.  More stress, and we filed a lawsuit.  This added to my migraines and my fibromyalgia was very painful.

In 1983, my wonderful husband died leaving me with teenagers.  My body reacted in what I thought was an unusual way.  I felt as if I couldn’t stay still. I had to be moving all the time and at night sleep didn’t come.  This went on for at least two years, while increasing fibromyalgia pain. 

After my husband died I felt that if I had a business it might help me through the grief.   After much thought I started a small business, it is now 30 years old with multi-layered experiences.  Because of my unique business I was asked by two magazines to write a monthly article which I did. 

My church asked me to lead a group and host a family of 7 immigrants (boat people from Vietnam). I was in charge of them for several years.  As much as I loved the family, I had to use tough love and slowly stopped helping them to let me go and begin their own lives, as families should.  Knowing this family is a wonderful story that added happiness to our lives. I did all this through my pain.

My neck was so bad I was losing the use of my left arm. There was more pain and it was getting harder to deal with my business.  During this time I met a second wonderful man.  We saw each other for 6 years before we married. 

I saw a doctor about my neck pain.  When the camper exploded, I hit the back of my neck on the counter edge.  I didn’t know at first that I had hurt my neck because the burns were so bad.  My neck had a dent in the vertebrae’s and was collecting calcium deposits. Over time I ended up having three surgeries on my neck.  They couldn’t get all the calcium out because it was too close to the spinal cord and I could have been paralyzed.

Right after one of the surgeries I ended up back in the hospital with mononucleosis and hepatitis.  It made healing much harder and the pain became chronic along with fibromyalgia.  I saw a rheumatologist in Seattle.  We tried Lyrica and Cymbalta, but I had terrible side effects. 

I was asked to take part in a University of Washington fibromyalgia study that lasted several months.  I roller skated 4 miles around Green Lake every day. I was in great shape and was doing this through all the pain. I tried biofeedback and swimming twice a week.  I also have a TENS machine, but that only helps while you’re on it. 

I tried everything to help the pain.  My rheumatologist recommended I take oxycodone three times a day.  They helped me but it was not a time release so it would not decrease pain evenly.  When OxyContin became available, my doctor suggested I try it. I now take OxyContin three times a day.  He also gave me the oxycodone for breakthrough pain.  I started this program in the early 1990’s and have been on the same dose ever since, never asking for more or stronger medication.  It helps control about 75% of my pain.  Sometimes I forget to take the medication and I hurt a lot.  This medication is not addicting like the pills my grandmother took.  I am not addicted, I am dependent!

I have had several other surgeries, including two that failed.  One surgery was on my left foot and the doctor left my foot deformed; he is no longer practicing.  In 2013 I had a total knee replacement and it was a complete failure. I have problems going up and down stairs, and it is now my biggest pain area.  I am also diabetic and have osteoarthritis in my hands and hips. 

My pain is very chronic, there is no way to exercise or do other things recommended by the CDC. I’ve already tried them. The pain medication is the only relief I will ever have.

In 2001, we moved from Seattle to northern Idaho.  No doctor there wanted to deal with a new pain patient, so we were traveling 800 miles round trip back to Seattle every 3 months. Then my doctor retired. The doctor that replaced him left for another clinic because he didn’t want to deal with my doctor’s patients.  The doctor that took his place said she would not prescribe pain medication.  I got a letter saying they did not want me as a patient – even though I was a great patient staying with the same doctor for many years. In fact, they kicked out ALL pain patients from that clinic!

I did eventually find a pain clinic near us. So far they are keeping me on the same program as my retired doctor had me on.

The CDC, FDA and the Obama administration are telling doctors to take pain medication away from us. They are lumping pain patients in with addicts and causing horrible problems.  Doctors don't want to deal with us. Whatever happened to "Do No Harm"? 

Carol Hansen lived in Idaho. She invites people to learn more about chronic pain by reading "Opioid Epidemic Myths" and this Petition2Congress.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us.  Send them to:  editor@PainNewsNetwork.org

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Migraines Linked to Low Levels of Vitamin D

By Pat Anson, Editor

Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other chronic pain conditions. And new research suggests the “sunshine vitamin” may play a role in preventing migraines.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that a high percentage of children, teens and young adults with migraines appear to have mild deficiencies in vitamin D, riboflavin and coenzyme Q10. The latter is a vitamin-like substance found in cells that is used to produce energy for cell growth and maintenance.

"Further studies are needed to elucidate whether vitamin supplementation is effective in migraine patients in general, and whether patients with mild deficiency are more likely to benefit from supplementation," says Suzanne Hagler, MD, a Headache Medicine fellow in the division of Neurology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. She presented her findings at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society in San Diego.

Hagler studied a database of patients with migraines who had their blood levels checked for vitamin D, riboflavin, coenzyme Q10 and folate, all of which have been linked to migraines in previous and sometimes conflicting studies.

Many of the patients were put on migraine medications and received vitamin supplementation, if their blood levels were low. Because few received vitamins alone, the researchers were unable to determine if vitamin supplements by themselves were effective in preventing migraines.

Hagler found that girls and young woman were more likely than boys and young men to have coenzyme Q10 deficiencies. Boys and young men were more likely to have vitamin D deficiency. Patients with chronic migraines were more likely to have coenzyme Q10 and riboflavin deficiencies than those with episodic migraines.

Vitamin D helps control levels of calcium and phosphate in the blood and is essential for the formation of strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D also modulates cell growth, improves neuromuscular and immune function, and reduces inflammation

Sources of Vitamin D include oily fish and eggs, but it can be difficult to get enough through diet alone. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight are a principal source of Vitamin D for most people.

Danish researchers found that exposure to sunlight may delay the onset of multiple sclerosis (MS). Patients who spent time in the sun every day during the summer as teenagers developed the disease later in life than those who spent their summers indoors.

Low levels of serum vitamin D were found in over 1,800 fibromyalgia patients in a recent meta-analysis (a study of studies) published in the journal Pain Physician. Researchers at National Taiwan University Hospital found a “positive crude association” between chronic widespread pain and hypovitaminosis D.

Pain News Network columnist Crystal Lindell began taking Vitamin D supplements when her blood levels were found to be very low. Within a few months she was feeling better, exercising more, and losing weight. You can read Crystal’s story by clicking here.

New Treatments Offer Hope to Migraine Sufferers

By Pat Anson, Editor

Findings from several new clinical studies could pave the way for new treatments that could someday prevent and lessen the severity of migraines.

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. Although there are many treatment options available, most migraine sufferers are not fully satisfied with their effectiveness.

Teva Pharmaceuticals (NYSE: TEVA) is developing a new injectable drug – called TEV-48125 – that is designed to be injected monthly in chronic migraine sufferers who have headaches at least 15 days per month.

"Chronic migraine affects about 1 percent of all adults, yet less than 5 percent of those people receive a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment," said study author Marcelo Bigal, MD, of Teva Pharmaceuticals. "Most people who receive preventive medication for chronic migraine stop using them, and one reason for that is the drugs can take a long time to become effective.”

In findings published online in the journal Neurology, Bigal reported that TEV-48125 was effective in reducing the length of headaches three to seven days after the first injection. The drug contains an antibody that blocks the calcitonin gene-related peptide that plays a role in migraine pain.

Teva’s Phase II study involved 261 people with chronic migraine who were divided into three groups; one group received a monthly shot for three months with a low dose of TEV-48125, the second group received a high dose and the third group received a placebo shot. Participants then used an electronic diary to record the number and length of their headaches.

After one week, the average number of headache hours went down by 2.9 hours for people taking the placebo, 9.1 hours for people taking the low dose of TEV-48125 and 11.4 hours for those taking the high dose.

After two weeks, the number of days with moderate or severe headaches, fell by 0.8 days for patients getting the placebo, 1.3 days for the low dose and 1.5 days for the high dose of TEV-48125.

“If these results can be confirmed with larger studies, this could be exciting for people with migraine," said Bigal.

Amgen Injectable Migraine Drug

Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) and Novaratis (NYSE: NVS) are also developing a monthly injectable drug --- called erenumab – which contains an antibody that blocks a peptide receptor that is believed to transmit migraine pain signals.

In a Phase II study, 667 chronic migraine patients were injected with a placebo or two different doses (70 mg or 140 mg) of erenumab. At the start of the study, patients were experiencing about 18 migraine days per month.

Patients who received erenumab at either dose experienced an average 6.6-day reduction in migraine days, compared to a 4.2-day reduction in those who receive a placebo. Less than five percent of the  patients treated with erenumab had a side effect, such as injection site pain, upper respiratory tract infection and nausea.

Erenumab is currently under evaluation in several large global, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials to assess its safety and efficacy in migraine prevention. Amgen expects results from a Phase III study of erenumab in the second half of 2016. Depending on the findings, that could result in an early new drug application to the Food and Drug Administration.  

Clinical studies presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society also highlighted some promising new migraine treatments.

Alder BioPharmaceuticals presented data showing that a single injection of a drug called ALD403 reduces migraine for up to six months. In a recent Phase II study of patients with chronic migraine, ALD403 significantly reduced migraines by 75 percent in up to a third of patients. 

“A 75 percent reduction in migraine days for these patients means a reduction of 12 or more migraine days each month,” said Jeffrey T.L. Smith, MD, Senior Vice President at Alder. “This equates to giving patients back roughly two weeks of their lives after a single administration.”

Researchers at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine reported results from a placebo controlled study on the efficacy of ubrogepant in treating a single migraine attack. Patients who received ubrogepant reported a reduction in headache severity from severe or moderate to mild or none within two hours.

Ubrogepant is free of known cardiovascular risk and may provide an important treatment option for patients who suffer from cardiovascular disease. 

Migraine affect three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. About half of people living with migraine are undiagnosed.

A Pained Life: Teaching the Reality of Pain

By Carol Levy, Columnist

Excedrin, which makes an over-the-counter pill for migraine sufferers, has a wonderful TV ad.

A sufferer wanted to show her mother what she sees and experiences when she has a migraine. Excedrin developed a simulator that does exactly that (click here to see it).

The mother puts on the device and sees the visual disturbances her daughter sees when she has a migraine attack. As she removes the device the mother turns to her daughter, hugs her and says, “I'm so sorry. I didn’t know.”

How wonderful, I thought. If only...

If only there was a way to simulate the pain of constant, intractable chronic pain.

If only there was a way to get our message across, and in a visceral way.

Too often we are told, even by medical professionals:

“It can't be that bad.”

"I had a sprained ankle so I get your pain.”

“It's all in your head. You just don't want to (go out, work, be a part of the family, the community, the world, etc.)”

It is common for a pain sufferer to write in the comment section of articles on chronic pain the following:  

“I wish doctors would have chronic pain, even if only for a day or two so they would get it.”

When I had the worst of my trigeminal neuralgia, I could not tolerate any touch to my forehead on the affected side. This meant I could not wash that part of my face or my hair. As a result I would get a big buildup of soap and dirt in the area which, because of a facial paralysis and my eye not being able to close well, caused eye infections.

The only way to clean the area was to put me under general anesthesia. The nurses and doctors were wonderful about it, the doctor having shampoo in his locker in case I forgot mine.

When someone asks me about the pain and they say outright or make expressions indicating they don't believe me, I trot out my general anesthesia anecdote. Then they get it. After all, why would a doctor or a patient take the risk of anesthesia without a real need to do it?

I recall a TV show, maybe it was Doogie Howser, MD, where medical students went through a simulation of what it is like to be a patient. They were given cloudy glasses to feel the disorientation of being unable to see clearly. They also put pebbles in their shoes to feel the discomfort of severe pain when you are trying to get around.

I had hoped maybe they did actually do this at a medical school somewhere, but no matter what words I put into Google Search, I could not find anything. The closest are programs where actors are hired to portray various illnesses to help teach students better diagnostic skills, insight and empathy.  But no actors had the role of being in chronic pain.

How can we teach the students?

I didn’t realize when I started writing this I would feel so frustrated by the question.  I guess I expected I would find a pithy answer.

Unfortunately, part of the answer is that students come from the general population, which often cannot accept the level of pain we feel. So they bring that skepticism and disbelief with them.

It would be unethical to put them in actual pain.

But maybe if we could show them the impairment, if we could find a simulator to allow them to feel the frustration of being unable to tie a shoe, go out in the slight breeze without the triggering of exquisite pain, or even walk, we too might too hear a “I'm so sorry. I didn’t know.”

And wouldn’t that be wonderful.

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” 

Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Green Light Reduces Migraine Headache

By Pat Anson, Editor

Many people who suffer from migraines will tell you that bright light can trigger a horrible headache.

But researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston have found that a narrow band of green light can significantly reduce light sensitivity – known as photophobia – and reduce headache severity in migraine sufferers.

"Although photophobia is not usually as incapacitating as headache pain itself, the inability to endure light can be disabling," said Rami Burstein, PhD, Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine and Academic Director of the Comprehensive Headache Center at Beth Israel Deaconess, as well as the John Hedley-Whyte Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School.

"More than 80 percent of migraine attacks are associated with and exacerbated by light sensitivity, leading many migraine sufferers to seek the comfort of darkness and isolate themselves from work, family and everyday activities."

Five years ago, Burstein and his colleagues made the surprising discovery that blue light hurts migraine patients who are blind. The finding prompted research that found photophobia could be alleviated by blocking blue light. However, because that study involved only blind patients, who cannot detect all colors of light, researchers devised a way to study the effects of different colors of light on headache in patients who are not visually impaired.

In the first study of its kind, published in the journal Brain, Burstein and colleagues found that a narrow band of green light worsens migraine significantly less than other colors of light, and that low intensities of green light can even reduce headache pain.

The researchers asked 43 patients experiencing acute migraine attacks to report any change in headache when exposed to different intensities of blue, green, amber and red light.

As the intensity of the light increased every 30 seconds, patients were asked if their headache intensified. Nearly 80 percent of patients said their migraines got worse when exposed to white, blue or amber light, while green light was found to reduce pain in 20 percent of patients.

Researchers then measured the magnitude of the electrical signals generated by the retina (in the eye) and the cortex (in the brain) of patients in response to each color of light. They found that blue and red lights generated the largest signals in both the retina and the cortex, and that green light generated the smallest signals.

Researchers also used laboratory rats to study neurons in the thalamus, an area of the brain that transmits information about light from the eye to the cortex. These neurons were found to be most responsive to blue light and least responsive to green light, explaining why the migraine brain responds favorably to green light.

"These findings offer real hope to patients with migraines and a promising path forward for researchers and clinicians," said Burstein.

Burstein is now working to develop a more affordable light bulb that emits "pure" (narrow band wavelength) green light at low intensity, as well as affordable sunglasses that block all but this narrow band of pure green light. Currently, the cost of one such light bulb is prohibitively high ($360 to $500, according to this research) and the technology to block all but pure green light in sunglasses is also very costly.

Light therapy – also known as infrared or laser therapy – is also being used to treat pain from aching joints, muscles and low back pain. Red and green light are also used as a treatment for skin disorders such as acne, aging spots and wrinkles. The theory is that light therapy increases circulation and stimulates the growth of collagen in skin.

About a billion people worldwide suffer from headaches caused by migraines, which affect three times as many women as men.

Migraine affects about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. About half of people living with migraine are undiagnosed.

What Does a Migraine Look Like?

By Pat Anson, Editor

Sometimes there’s an aura. Or bright lights. Or blurred vision.

About a billion people worldwide suffer from headaches caused by migraines, which affect three times as many women as men. Most non-sufferers understand the headache part, but explaining what a migraine looks like isn’t easy – which is why the makers of Excedrin invented a simulator to help people better understand  migraines and the impact they can have.

"Migraines are more than bad headaches – the pulsing pain can be debilitating, and the associated symptoms like nausea and extreme sensitivity to light and sound, really impact people's lives," said Dr. Elizabeth Seng, a New York based psychologist.

GSK Consumer Healthcare brought together several migraine sufferers and had them explain the symptoms they most often experience during a migraine episode, including aura, sensitivity to light and blurred vision. The symptoms were then replicated with the simulator and conducted in a controlled environment from everyday life – like riding the subway or going to a restaurant -- to give non-sufferers the chance to safely experience the full range of migraine symptoms

Many found the experience unsettling and nauseating, as you’ll see in this short video that Excedrin recently began airing on TV and over the Internet:

Excedrin partnered with Andy Cohen, a best-selling author, TV personality, producer and migraine sufferer, to help spread awareness about the impact migraines can have on relationships with friends, spouses and co-workers. He hopes the simulator will help non-sufferers better understand the migraine experience.

"Growing up with migraines, I experienced firsthand how debilitating an episode can be and how much it can affect relationships with loved ones," said Cohen. "In my experience, both personal and professional, I've seen how migraines can become a third party in relationships – creating tension in, sometimes, already murky waters."

Migraine affects about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. About half of people living with migraine are undiagnosed.

A Migraine Sufferer Finds Hope Again

By Paul Hannah, Guest Columnist

On a Sunday morning 33 years ago, I was reading a newspaper in bed and was suddenly struck with a headache. I hadn't really had many headaches before, so I expected that this would pass with some non-prescription medication and an hour or so in bed.

I was very wrong.

I still have that headache today. If it would have stayed at a 1/10 pain level, I probably would not have done much about it. However, it didn't stay that low and that was where the problem lies.

When the headache moves to 4/10 or 5/10 I get concerned, because if I don't stop it at that point, it will rapidly scale up to a full migraine.

I have read other accounts of migraines, but very few accord with mine. My neck gets stiff, the trapezius muscles lock up, and my eyes start to hurt. I become rapidly photophobic and the pain gathers and localizes in the frontal lobe of my brain.

Once it reaches 6/10, I get a syringe from my migraine drawer and inject Maxolon into my arm muscle and immediately lie down. As a result of the photophobia, I have built myself a four poster bed so that I can draw the curtains and be in total darkness. After the Maxolon kicks in, I drink some liquids, often very strong coffee, and take as many of the various painkillers as I dare.

PAUL HANNAH

PAUL HANNAH

About fifty percent of the time, that is enough and spending the next five or ten hours in bed gets me well enough to function again. The other fifty percent of the time, it gets worse. Much worse.

It feels like someone is reaching into my skull and squeezing the frontal lobe of my brain with each beat of my heart. At this point, it becomes imperative, as bizarre as it seems, for me to concentrate. This is because the pain momentarily stops when I sub-consciously hold my breath, and then when I do finally breathe, it gets worse.

These migraines happen so frequently and unpredictably that I have given up traveling. I joke and say that I have seen the inside of too many foreign hospitals - but it is no joke, I love traveling. I miss it terribly.

I have a sympathetic doctor who will write scripts for pethidine (Demerol) every six weeks. It took literally years of doctor shopping to find him. If I have any pethidine left, I give myself an injection. The wave of relief that passes through me with that drug is hard to describe. I heard an opium addict describe her relief like this: "The pain is still there, you can still feel its presence, but it doesn't hurt anymore." It is like that for me.

Every migraine sufferer I have discussed this with has resonated with three annoying things that people come up with. Some women (and it always has been women in my experience) place two fingers to their temples and say, "I have a migraine". Anyone that has ever experienced a 10/10 could no more speak and function as 'normally' as that, than fly. They simply have no idea how bad it is. Fingers are regarded as among the most sensitive to pain areas of the body and anyone hitting a thumb with a hammer can attest.

Eighteen months ago I had an accident in my workshop and cut off my left index finger, half of my thumb and mashed up the other fingers in that hand. The pain level was 5/10. I took the painkillers the paramedics offered, but I didn't need them. The painkillers I took in hospital were for my head, not my hand.

The second annoying thing is when we are asked, "Have you looked into the cause?" I am barely able to contain my sarcasm when confronted with this. I desperately want to say something like "Well goodness me! That IS a good idea, why didn't I think of this thirty years ago?" But I don't, I just look away and say something equally inane.

Just as annoying are those that have an aunt who was cured by giving up coffee (tried it for 9 months, no change), going through menopause (strangely enough, not all that helpful to me) or taken some homeopathic/natural or equally nonsense cure (One said a foot massage was sure to fix it).

I am fortunate in that I live in Australia, a place where universal free healthcare is considered a citizen's right and a government's responsibility. So I have had several MRIs, X-rays and even an EEG, nothing has ever shown up as anything but normal.

When Francis Collins finished the Human Genome Project I thought it was marvelous from a human achievement point of view, but nothing more. I had no idea that it was going to change my life. But change it, it did and in all the right ways.

When I heard about this from another genuine migraine sufferer I took a blood test and for the first time in 33 years I had a non-normal result. It seems there is a genetic mutation called MTHFR, and if a person has one of them, it makes it difficult to process vitamin B. I have two of the sods.

I have spent my life being deficient in Vitamin B2, all the while my blood was full of the stuff. Both of those conditions can cause migraines. For the last eight weeks I have been taking a number of supplments and a cream - DHEA/CHYSIN, zinc, B-2, 5-MTHF and D-3. So far, I have had nothing worse than a 4/10 headache and I have every reason to suspect that this improvement will continue.

The Human Genome Project has given me something I thought I would never have again: hope. And hope to the hopeless is a marvelous thing. Truly marvelous.

I urge every migraine sufferer who can afford it to take the test. This isn't foot massage or acupuncture nonsense, it might actually work.

Paul Hannah lives in a small town just north of Brisbane, Australia on a few acres of bush populated with wallabies, koalas and a wide variety of native birds. He is retired and enjoys writing, history, astronomy and woodwork. 

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us.  Send them to:  editor@PainNewsNetwork.org

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Childhood Emotional Abuse Raises Risk of Migraine

By Pat Anson, Editor

New research is adding to the growing body of evidence linking child abuse with migraines. In a large survey of young adults, nearly two-thirds who suffer from migraines said they experienced emotional abuse as children.

"Emotional abuse showed the strongest link to increased risk of migraine," said Gretchen Tietjen, MD, University of Toledo. “Childhood abuse can have long-lasting effects on health and well-being."

In the study, nearly 14,500 people aged 24 to 32 were asked the question: "How often did a parent or other adult caregiver say things that really hurt your feelings or made you feel like you were not wanted or loved?"

Of those diagnosed with migraines, 61% said they had been abused as a child. Of those who never had a migraine, 49% said they were abused.

The participants were then asked whether they had experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as children. Physical abuse was defined as being hit with a fist, kicked, or thrown down on the floor, into a wall, or down stairs. Sexual abuse included forced sexual touching or sexual relations.

Nearly half of the participants answered yes to emotional abuse, 18% said they were physically abused, and 5% sexually abused.

Those who were emotionally abused were 52% more likely to have migraine than those who were not abused. But those who were sexually or physically abused were not significantly more likely to have migraine.

“Multiple studies have shown a strong link between childhood trauma and subsequent risk for developing chronic pain in adulthood, for instance, fibromyalgia. This study appears to be showing a similar association in migraine,” said Beth Darnall, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor at Stanford University and co-chair of the Pain Psychology Task Force at the American Academy of Pain Medicine. 

“The collective findings suggest that childhood emotional trauma has a lasting impact on emotional and sensory experience throughout life, and underscore trauma as an important therapeutic target to reduce chronic pain and its impact, and to possibly prevent chronic pain.”

A similar study published last year found that children who witnessed domestic violence between their parents were significantly more likely to experience migraine headaches as adults.

Researchers at the University of Toronto surveyed over 12,000 women and 10,000 men who participated in the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health. Participants were asked if they experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse or if they witnessed parental domestic violence as children.

"We found the more types of violence the individual had been exposed to during their childhood, the greater the odds of migraine. For those who reported all three types of adversities -- parental domestic violence, childhood physical and sexual abuse -- the odds of migraine were a little over three times higher for men and just under three times higher for women" said Sarah Brennenstuhl, PhD, first author of the study.

Previous research has also shown the risk of depression and suicide ideation is about twice as high for migraine sufferers. People with migraine under the age of 30 have six times the odds of depression compared to migraineurs aged 65 and over.

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound.

FDA Approves New Inhaler for Migraine

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new type of inhaler for the treatment of acute migraine in adult patients with or without aura.

Onzetra Xsail delivers a low dose of a dry powder formulation of sumatriptan, the most commonly prescribed medication for migraine.

"Onzetra Xsail provides a new and much needed treatment option for what can be a debilitating condition for millions of people," said Roger Cady, MD, director of the Headache Care Center and associate executive chairman of the National Headache Foundation.

"The Xsail Breath Powered Delivery Device allows the medication to be deposited deep into the nose, an area that is rich with blood vessels. By delivering the medication here, Onzetra Xsail provides targeted and efficient delivery with the potential for fast, consistent relief, while also limiting the amount of medicine that goes down the back of the throat."

The inhaler is activated when a user exhales into the device, automatically closing the soft palate and sealing off the nasal cavity. Through a sealing nosepiece placed into the nostril, the exhaled breath carries medication from the device directly into one side of the nose. The medication is dispersed deep into the nasal cavity, reaching areas where it can be rapidly absorbed.

As the medication is delivered, the air flows around to the opposite side of the nasal cavity and exits through the other nostril. Closure of the soft palate helps prevent swallowing and reduces gastrointestinal absorption.

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. About half of people living with migraine are undiagnosed.

“While there are many acute migraine treatment options available, more than 70% of patients are not fully satisfied with their current migraine treatment. Given this high dissatisfaction, there remains an unmet need to provide patients with fast-acting, well tolerated therapies that deliver consistent relief,” said Stewart Tepper, MD, professor of neurology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

The FDA approved Onzetra after clinical trials showed the inhaler provided headache relief to about 40% of users within 30 minutes. About two-thirds of users reported pain relief after two hours. Side effects include abnormal product taste, nasal discomfort, rhinorrhea and rhinitis.

Medical Marijuana May Reduce Migraine Headaches

By Pat Anson, Editor

New research is adding to the growing body of evidence that medical marijuana can be used to treat migraine headaches.

In a small study of 121 migraine patients by researchers at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado, 103 patients reported a significant decrease in the number of migraine headaches they had every month. The frequency of headaches dropped from an average of 10.4 to 4.6 per month. Most patients used more than one form of marijuana and used it daily. The study was published in the journal Pharmacotherapy.

"There was a substantial improvement for patients in their ability to function and feel better," said senior author Professor Laura Borgelt, PharmD. "Like any drug, marijuana has potential benefits and potential risks. It's important for people to be aware that using medical marijuana can also have adverse effects."

Fifteen of the patients reported marijuana use had no impact on their headaches, while three said they had more headaches.

The study looked at patients treated at Gedde Whole Health, a private medical practice in Colorado that utilizes medical marijuana for a variety of conditions. Inhaled marijuana appeared to be the favorite method for treating acute migraines, while edible cannabis, which takes longer to be absorbed into the body, helped prevent headaches.

bigstock-The-words-medical-marijuana-su-17121803.jpg

Exactly how cannabis relieves migraines is not fully understood. Natural cannabinoid receptors in the brain, connective tissues, and the immune system appear to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. These cannabinoids also seem to affect neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

"We believe serotonin plays a role in migraine headaches, but we are still working to discover the exact role of cannabinoids in this condition," Borgelt said.

“We have had numerous patients finding results with migraines and the use of cannabis,” said Ellen Lenox Smith, a Pain News Network columnist who is a caregiver to medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island.

“We just had a woman out at the house a few days ago that was suffering will full body Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and when she took one hit on a vaporizer of day meds, you could actually see the forehead relax and had headache relief immediately. When it is right for you, the results are amazing.” 

A 2013 study on rodents published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that triptans – a drug widely prescribed to treat migraine – appear to activate cannabinoid receptors just as marijuana does.

A 2007 study published in the European Journal of Critical Pharmacology found that migraine patients possessed significantly lower levels of endogenous cannabinoids than healthy control subjects.

Imaging Identified as Most Wasteful Medical Test

By Pat Anson, Editor

Should you get an MRI for your headache?

What about a CT scan for low back pain?

Or a bone-density scan for someone under the age of 65?

In most cases, the answer to all of those questions is no, according to the Choosing Wisely campaign of the ABIM Foundation, which seeks to reduce the use of hundreds of unnecessary and costly medical tests. Experts say an MRI or CT scan of the lower back can cost over $1,200 and does nothing to relieve your back pain.

Since Choosing Wisely was launched in 2012, over 370 wasteful procedures have been identified by over 70 medical societies, such as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons. Each organization was asked to identify an initial list of five medical services that may be unnecessary. Many societies went far beyond that, returning with two or even three lists.

A neurologist at the University of Michigan says the list of recommendations from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) only scratches the surface. Brian Callaghan, MD, has identified 74 tests and procedures related to neurology that are often unnecessary. Many involve the use of imaging.

“The two biggest areas that might be done more than they should are imaging for low back pain and imaging for headaches,” Callaghan said. “It’s a big problem and it costs a lot of money – we’re talking a billion dollars a year on just headache imaging.”

According to a recent study at the University of Michigan, one in eight visits to a doctor for a headache or migraine end up with the patient going for a brain scan. Often a doctor will order a CT or MRI scan to ease a patient’s fear that they may have a brain tumor or some other serious issue causing their pain. Physicians could also order a scan to protect themselves legally in case of a future lawsuit.

In most cases, however, the brain scan will be useless. Previous research found that only 1 to 3 percent of brain scans of patients with repeated headaches identify a cancerous growth or aneurysm that's causing the problem. Many of the issues that a scan might identify don’t pose a serious threat or may not require treatment right away. There is also the risk of a false positive that could generate unnecessary fear and alarm.

“These are all areas where lots of physicians agree that you’re more likely to get harmed by doing the procedures,” said Callaghan, whose study was recently published in the journal Neurology.

Callaghan isn’t encouraging you to say no if your doctor wants to image your brain or lower back, but he hopes his research will inspire a thoughtful discussion between doctors and patients about the purpose of the test and its value

“Ordering an MRI for a headache is very quick, and it actually takes longer to describe to the patient why that’s not the best route,” Callaghan said. “These guidelines are meant for physicians and patients both, to trigger a conversation.”

Besides imaging, another treatment that is widely questioned is the use of opioid pain medication to treat headaches and migraine. The Choosing Wisely campaign recommends that opioids only be used as a last resort for severe headaches, including migraine. Overuse of any pain reliever – even over-the-counter medications -- are known to make headaches worse.

My Life with Migraines

By Sara Batchelder, Guest Columnist

I have had migraine disease since I was 22. My first migraine was in 1992, the year I graduated from college. 

I am now 45, and my migraines have become chronic and daily.  I have lost two jobs, many friendships, my social life, and my relationship of eleven years.  This year, I also lost my ability to work full-time at a regular job.  The only reason I can still work part-time is that my ex employs me and allows me to work whenever I am able.  Thank goodness for that. Working gives me a purpose and makes me feel like a productive member of society.  It is an extreme struggle to work twenty hours a week though. 

I also have thyroid disease (my thyroid gland was removed when I was 29), celiac disease (I have been 100% gluten free for a year), depression, anxiety, infertility, and extreme allergies to many things, such as food, pollen, dust, cats, you name it. 

I now have a multi-pronged approach to my treatment.  For migraine, I have botox injections every three months, I see a “natural MD” for various treatments, and I take Relpax (a triptan) and opioids (Norco and morphine). 

I am still learning a lot about celiac disease, but I stay ever vigilant that I do not ingest any gluten whatsoever, even one molecule.  It’s a learning experience and constantly challenging.  For instance, I will visit a restaurant that I consider safe, get “glutened” and cross that restaurant off the list.  I am down to four restaurants that I can eat at. 

Since I am too sick to cook for myself most of the time, I graze on various packaged food - some good, some not so good.  I eat protein bars when traveling, although I do not travel often anymore.  It’s a lot of work to make sure all the food I eat is gluten-free and free of all of my other food allergies. 

sara met with sen. barbara boxer while advocating for migraine research

sara met with sen. barbara boxer while advocating for migraine research

I’ve been dealing with allergies for all of my 45 years.  My “natural MD” (my voodoo doctor, as I jokingly call him) gives me small doses of LDA shots, which are helping a bit.  He also believes that I have a lyme-like disease called Bartonella, which he is treating me for.  I am on so many vitamins that I won’t even go there. I take Wellbutrin for depression, nothing for anxiety, and since I am now 45, the infertility has played itself out. 

Deep breath. That’s a lot of illness and treatment.

Even with all of this, my scariest problem today is the government’s war on pain patients who take opioids.  After the DEA stormed one of my doctors’ offices in bulletproof vests with guns drawn (to request appointments with two doctors -- couldn't that have been done by phone?), all of my doctors, but one, have withdrawn ALL narcotic treatments for ALL migraineurs. 

It baffles me why this policy exists.  This is discrimination plain and simple.  I want to sue, but no lawyer will take the case.  I know that many addicts lie and tell doctors that they are migraine patients, since migraine is an invisible disease that cannot be diagnosed with blood tests, MRI’s, or anything else, but these are doctors whom I have a 10 year relationship with! 

They are either petrified of the DEA or always thought that I was an addict, and didn’t care enough to deal with that.  Either way, what the heck I am supposed to do?  Without my weekly pain shots, I can no longer work full-time.  If I still didn’t have one doctor on my side, I’m pretty sure I would have committed suicide. 

My private disability was denied due to some technicality.  SSI pays less than I can make part-time and SSI doesn’t allow the disabled to work part-time anyway (don’t get me started on that). 

I am very, very fortunate to work in California, where I have been on part-time disability.  But it will only last for one year, so I will be on my own again soon anyway.  I don’t know about other people, but there is no way I can survive in California on half-pay.  I was barely making ends meet while working full-time.  Now that I am single again, I cannot rely on someone else to support me. It is terrifying!!!

I have met and will soon meet again with members of Congress to discuss more funding for migraine and headache research through an organization called Headache on the Hill. That organization does not support opioid treatment for migraine at this time, but I still want to address the opioid issue with other pain patients.  Who will join me?

 

Sara Batchelder lives in California, where she received an MBA with honors from the University of San Francisco and works as a controller for small architecture firm. Sara volunteers at her local credit union and tries to advocate for migraineurs as much as she can.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. 

Send them to:  editor@PainNewsNetwork.org.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Study Finds Doctors Order Too Many Imaging Tests

By Pat Anson, Editor

Doctors are still ordering too many imaging tests for low back pain and headache, according to an early study of the effectiveness of the Choosing Wisely campaign, a national effort to reduce the number of unnecessary medical treatments and procedures.

In an analysis of seven clinical services with questionable benefit to patients, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that the use of five procedures either increased or stayed the same; while there were only slight declines in the use of two others.

CT and MRI imaging tests for simple headache decreased from 14.9 percent to 13.4 percent, while cardiac imaging for patients with no history of heart problems dropped from 10.8 percent to 9.7 percent.

The prescribing of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) increased from 14.4% to 16.2% for hypertension, heart failure or chronic kidney disease. Testing for human papillomavirus (HPV) in young women also rose, from 4.8% to 6%.

Imaging tests for low back pain (53.7%), pre-operative chest x-rays (91.5%), and antibiotics for sinusitis (91.5%) remained stubbornly high.

The study was based on a database of insurance claims from 2013 for about 25 million members of Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans.

“It remains an open question whether clinicians or consumers at large are aware of specific Choosing Wisely recommendations or have changed their attitude toward unnecessary tests and procedures,” wrote Ralph Gonzalez, MD, in a commentary published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“In a fee-for services system, most delivery systems continue to get paid for tests and drugs. Payers are able to pass on these costs to employers and patients, creating a vicious cycle.”

The Choosing Wisely campaign was launched in 2012 by the ABIM Foundation (American Board of Internal Medicine) with the goal of reducing waste and unnecessary medical tests and treatments. It has grown to include a list of hundreds of frequently used procedures that have little value or may, in fact, be risky.

“Most people with lower-back pain feel better in about a month whether they get an imaging test or not. In fact, those tests can lead to additional procedures that complicate recovery,” Choosing Wisely states on its website.

“A study that looked at 1,800 people with back pain found that those who had imaging tests soon after reporting the problem fared no better and sometimes did worse than people who took simple steps like applying heat, staying active, and taking an OTC pain reliever. Another study found that back-pain sufferers who had an MRI in the first month were eight times more likely to have surgery, and had a five-fold increase in medical expenses.”

The Choosing Wisely campaign also discourages doctors from performing epidural steroid injections if a patient doesn’t show signs of improvement after one injection. A number of prominent pain doctors have told Pain News Network the shots are overused, with some patients getting dozens of injections.  

New Wearable Devices for Chronic Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

With opioid pain medications becoming harder to get and many patients looking for safer alternatives with fewer side effects, a growing number of companies are offering wearable “electrotherapy” devices for pain relief.

There’s the Cefaly headband for migraines, ActiPatch for sore muscles, AcuKnee for osteoarthritis, and the Quell nerve stimulator, which is designed to treat a range of chronic pain conditions. All are part of a fast growing $2.8 billion market for wearable medical devices.

“There’s a big problem brewing on the horizon. And that is the pain medications are being removed from the market, slowly but surely,” says Phillip Muccio, President and founder of Axiobionics, which has been making customized electrotherapy devices for 20 years.

“Electrical stimulation has a way of reaching into the body and interacting and coordinating what happens to the body. That’s why it a fascinating area of medicine because not a lot of things will do that, especially non-invasively and non-pharmacologically.”

Most of the new devices use a form of electrical stimulation to block or mask pain signals – a technique developed decades ago known as Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS).

Unlike the old TENS units, which are typically used for about 30 minutes, wearable devices are designed to be worn for several hours at a time or even while sleeping.

image courtesy of axiobionics

image courtesy of axiobionics

“TENS is like a short acting opioid. It’s basically only effective when it’s on,” said Shai Gozani, MD, President and CEO of Neurometrix. “If you’re going to deal with chronic pain, you have to have a wearable, chronically usable device, because pain can be two hours a day or it could be 24 hours a day. TENS devices historically haven’t been designed at all for wear-ability or continuous use.”

Neurometrix recently introduced Quell, an electrotherapy device that Gozani compares to a spinal cord stimulator. But instead of being surgically implanted near the spine like a stimulator, Quell is worn externally on the upper calf below the knee.

image courtesy of neurometrix

image courtesy of neurometrix

“We really look at spinal cord stimulation as the model. We’re trying to make that available but in a non-invasive, wearable way -- versus TENS devices which are really intended for local muscle stimulation. We don’t stimulate the muscles, we stimulate the nerve alone,” Gozani told Pain News Network.

“The upper calf has a lot of nerves. It’s comfortable. It’s discrete. So it meets the requirement to have a large segment of nerves to stimulate, but it’s also highly usable from a wear-ability perspective.”

A small study recently conducted by Neurometrix found that over 80% of Quell users had a significant reduction in pain and two-thirds were able to reduce the amount of pain medication they were taking.  Participants in the study had several different types of of chronic pain, including fibromyalgia, sciatica, neuropathy and arthritis.

When it comes to clinical studies, medical device makers have a clear advantage over pharmaceutical companies, which often have to spend years and tens of millions of dollars proving the safety and effectiveness of their drugs before they’re approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Device makers are held to a lower regulatory standard.

“Devices are approved by FDA basically for safety and not necessarily for efficacy. It’s a lot easier to demonstrate that with a device than if you have to demonstrate a new drug. You basically run one study or two and show that nobody got electrocuted by a TENS unit and you’re good to go,” said Bob Twillman, PhD, Executive Director of the American Academy of Pain Management.

Device makers can even get fast track approval from the FDA without any clinical studies -- if they say a new device is substantially equivalent to an older device already on the market.  Quell, for example, was given clearance by the FDA because of its similarity to Sensus, another Neurometrix device that's worn below the knee for pain relief.

A significant disadvantage for device makers is that most are not covered by public or private health insurers – meaning patients have to pay for them out of pocket. Three years ago, Medicare stopped covering TENS for low back pain, saying the technology was “not reasonable and necessary.”

The lack of reimbursement also makes many doctors unwilling to prescribe wearable devices and unfamiliar with the technology behind them, which stifles innovation.  For that reason, Neurometrix took an unconventional path and made Quell available without a prescription – bypassing insurers and doctors so it could market directly to consumers for $249 a unit.

“We thought it was imperative to get it over the counter. We wanted to make sure it was accessible to patients," said Gozani. "Wear-ability changes everything. Wear-ability is the game changer in terms of optimizing pain relief. I think it's huge."

Blood Test Identifies Women Prone to Migraine

By Pat Anson, Editor

Researchers may have discovered a new marker for episodic migraine – lipids in the blood that regulate inflammation in the brain.

In a small study involving 88 women, researchers found that total levels of the lipids -- called ceramides or sphingolipids -- were significantly decreased in women with episodic migraine when compared to women without migraine. Episodic migraine is defined as less than 15 headaches per month. The women in this study had an average of 5.6 headache days a month.

"While more research is needed to confirm these initial findings, the possibility of discovering a new biomarker for migraine is exciting," said study author B. Lee Peterlin, DO, with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The study is published in Neurology,  the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Ceremides are bioactive lipids that may be involved in other neurological disorders, such as dementia and multiple sclerosis.

Women with migraine had approximately 6,000 nanograms per milliliter of ceramides in their blood; while women without headache had about 10,500 nanograms. Every standard deviation increase in total ceramide levels was associated with over a 92% lower risk of having migraine. Two other types of lipids, called sphingomyelin, were associated with a 2.5 times greater risk of migraine.

The researchers tested their theory by analyzing the blood of a random sample of 14 of the women. They were able to correctly identify those who had migraine and those who did not based on their lipid levels.

"This study is a very important contribution to our understanding of the underpinnings of migraine and may have wide-ranging effects in diagnosing and treating migraine if the results are replicated in further studies," said Karl Ekbom, MD, with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, who wrote an accompanying editorial.

Ekbom noted there were limitations in the study. Only women were included, chronic migraine was not studiedm and an unusually high number of participants had migraine with aura

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Migraine Device Reduces Headache Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

A device that looks like a space age tiara not only helps prevent migraine attacks, but also relieves headache pain once a migraine starts, according to the results of a small clinical trial.

In a study of 20 migraine sufferers, published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, the Cefaly device provided "statistically significant" pain relief, as well as an 81 percent reduction in the number of migraine attacks. Patients in the study also said they used less migraine medication.

Cefaly was approved last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the first transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation device specifically authorized for use prior to the onset of migraine pain.  Previous studies of the device only focused on migraine prevention.

"This is great confirmation on what we thought about the high efficacy of Cefaly," said Dr. Pierre Rigaux, chief executive officer of Cefaly Technology, a company based in Belgium. "We knew Cefaly to be very safe and with minimal side effects, but now we learn that it's not just the frequency of migraine days that's reduced for every four out of five patients, but the intensity of pain during a migraine attack is reduced as well."

IMAGE COURTESY OF CEFALY TECHNOLOGY

IMAGE COURTESY OF CEFALY TECHNOLOGY

The battery-powered device, which is worn over the forehead like a headband, uses tiny electrical impulses to stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which has been associated with migraine headaches. Cefaly requires a prescription and costs about $349. The device is only available through the company’s website and is not covered by insurance. It’s been available in Europe and Canada for several years.

It was on a trip to Canada that Maria Coder learned about Cefaly and – at the urging of her boyfriend Jay– reluctantly agreed to buy one.

“At the time my boyfriend and I got into a big fight because he wanted me to use it right away and I didn’t really like the idea. I’d never heard of it and I was nervous about using it,” said Coder, who has suffered from migraine for nearly two decades.  

The device sat in its box for about a week before she finally tried it.

“I was alone in the apartment and put on the headband and loved it. I fell in love with it. I started to feel better, but I thought beginner’s luck,” Coder told Pain News Network. “I tried it a few more times and then it took on a life of its own. Now I feel like a wimp when I get a migraine because I don’t get them hardly ever compared to before. It’s down to maybe 3 to 5 a month, whereas for almost ten years it was chronic, almost daily.”

Coder, who works in public relations, wrote a letter to Cefaly Technology that eventually turned into a job as a publicist for the company. She also recently married her boyfriend – wearing the Cefaly device for her daily 20-minute session during a break after the ceremony and before her reception.

“I really love and I really believe in it. I didn’t believe in it at first, when I got it. And then the more that I used it, the more I couldn’t deny the results,” she said.

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound.

maria coder

maria coder

In 2013, the FDA approved the marketing of another device -- the first transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) device approved for the relief of migraine pain. The Cerena TMS is placed at the back of the head to release a pulse of magnetic energy to the brain’s occipital cortex, which may stop or lessen pain caused by migraine headaches.