Picture this: It’s been a long day and you’re finally home, unwinding with one of your favorite shows, when you feel a migraine attack creeping up. Maybe it’s the aura setting in, or maybe it’s that first twinge of pain, but you know that if you don’t do something now, your next few hours won’t be very pleasant (to put it mildly).
Instead of reaching for medication, however, you grab something that looks like a high-tech armband, wrap it around your upper arm, tap your phone screen a few times, and get back to watching your show.
Sound like something out of a science fiction movie? Think again: Thanks to recent innovations, wearable migraine treatment devices are now a real option. Only a few devices have been cleared by the FDA so far, and we want to focus on one of them here: Nerivio®, a smartphone-controlled therapeutic wearable.
But first, let’s back up and review what migraine treatment devices are and how they work.
What’s a migraine treatment device?
Well, technically they’re called “neuromodulation devices,” because they relieve symptoms (and sometimes prevent migraine headaches altogether) by regulating neural activity in the brain. Some scientists think that migraine is caused by misbehaving neurons, so neuromodulation devices try to keep them in line. Even though these devices are often called “stimulators,” they’re usually aiming to calm your neurons down, not get them more riled up.
This method isn’t new—a surgical procedure called occipital nerve stimulation works on the same principle and has been around for years. But because occipital nerve stimulators need to be implanted at the base of the skull to work, there’s a high barrier for entry (not to mention a high risk of side effects) to this kind of treatment.
Newer neuromodulation devices don’t need to be surgically implanted to work. Instead, they’re worn or placed against your skin and use electrical, magnetic, or temperature-based signals to communicate with neurons.
So far, the FDA has only authorized a few portable neuromodulation devices, including Cefaly®, a daily migraine prevention treatment worn on your forehead, SpringTMS, a magnet you hold up behind your head, gammaCore, an electrical device used on your neck, and Nerivio.
Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s zoom in on that last one.
What is Nerivio?
As you probably remember, Nerivio is a smartphone-controlled wearable. It’s an acute treatment, so you use it to relieve symptoms of a migraine attack that’s already started. It can even stop an attack altogether.
How does Nerivio work to provide migraine pain relief?
Nerivio works by using electrical signals to calm your neurons during an attack. According to its maker, Theranica, Nerivio’s electrical pulses “induce an inherent pain inhibition brain mechanism,” which is a fancy way of saying it tells your brain to turn down the pain dial.
Why did the FDA clear it?
The FDA authorized Nerivio because of the positive results of a double-blind study of 252 migraine sufferers that was published in the clinical journal Headache in May 2019. The study showed that Nerivio lessened migraine pain within two hours for 66% of participants, and completely alleviated head pain for 37%. (A more recent study of real-world patients after Nerivio became available for doctors to prescribe had similar results.) The device also reduced other migraine symptoms, like nausea and light/sound sensitivity.
“Many migraine sufferers prefer not to take medication, and now they have another tool that can help them stop a migraine attack,” says Dr. Alexander Mauskop, founder of the New York Headache Center and Cove medical advisor. “Many of my patients are very happy to try [Nerivio] and find it effective.”
How do I use it?
You use it by putting the device on your upper arm and securing it with an armband—ideally, as soon as the attack starts, but it’ll still be effective within an hour of your first symptoms. You connect it to your smartphone via Bluetooth and use the free app to adjust the intensity of the treatment.
The app also includes a headache diary for migraine tracking. The treatment lasts 45 minutes, but you can go about your day while using Nerivio, if you feel well enough.
How do I know if Nerivio is right for me?
How can I buy Nerivio?
It’s a prescription device, so you’ll have to talk to a healthcare provider to get it.
Once you have it, you can use it wherever you need to—you don’t need a doctor’s supervision to operate it.
Can I use Nerivio with other migraine treatments?
Nerivio isn’t a medication, so it won’t interact with any migraine medications you’re already taking. That said, you should always talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment, electrical or otherwise. Some people shouldn’t use neuromodulation devices, so be sure to mention that Nerivio falls into that category.
Does it come with any side effects?
You might be wondering, “Does it hurt?” According to the participants in that study, the side effects of Nerivio include:
- feeling of warmth
- itching or tingling
- mild pain in the arm, shoulders, or neck
- muscle spasm
- temporary numbness in the arm or hand
Most people didn’t report any side effects, and the reported effects disappeared within 24 hours. The FDA considers Nerivio a “minimal risk” treatment, meaning they don’t expect to see any serious side effects from its use.
To sum all that up, Nerivio is an exciting development in the world of migraine treatment. It’s FDA-authorized, effective, non-pharmacological, and—bonus!—makes you look like you’re in a sci-fi movie.
For migraine sufferers who are looking for a non-drug option to add to their treatment toolbox, Nerivio is worth considering.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Nerivio should not be used by people with congestive heart failure, severe cardiac or cerebrovascular disease, or uncontrolled epilepsy. Nerivio should not be used by anyone with active implantable medical devices (e.g. pacemaker, hearing aid implant). It should only be applied on the upper arm over dry, healthy skin with normal physical sensation. Nerivio should not be used directly over or in close proximity to any metallic implants or cancerous lesions. Nerivio has not been evaluated in pregnancy or those under the age of 18. For full use instructions and safety information, please see the Nerivio User Manual. Click here for the QuickStart guide.