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Electric New Treatment Offers Hope For Migraine Sufferers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- For Alice Jowers, horses are a big part of her life. But not even her lifelong companions can bring her relief when chronic, debilitating migraines strike.

"It is a stabbing, searing -- it's as if someone takes a hot poker and just sticks it right through your temple and into your eye," Jowers said.

But as CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez reported, a simple electrical stimulator could control pain from the headaches.

Desperate for relief, Jowers volunteered for a unique clinical trial. It involves a small, implantable, battery-powered stimulator and a thin wire electrode that is inserted just under the skin at the base of the skull.

When she feels a headache coming on, she uses a remote control to active the stimulator implanted on her lower back. That sends electric impulses along wires that stimulate nerves at the back of her skull.

"We stimulate the larger nerves ... the ones in the back," explained Dr. Sudhir Diwan, executive director of Manhattan Spine and Pain Medicine. "Then it blocks the smaller fibers. These are the pain fibers."

Jowers is one of 45 patients taking part in the long-term electronic pulse study. Dr. Billy Huh, the lead researcher who has published previous studies on peripheral nerve stimulators, said some of his patients have reported life-changing results.

They "enjoy life basically without suffering from this debilitating disease," he said.

Often, medications, injections and psychotherapies are not effective in treating migraines, Diwan noted

"Ten percent or even less -- those patients do not respond to medical management at all," he said.

Peripheral nerve stimulators have been approved for a number of years for other types of pain -- such as back pain after failed surgeries -- but not for headaches. Even though doctors can legally use them to treat migraines, insurance usually does not pay for it. Huh's study is aimed at getting FDA approval so that patients will be reimbursed.

Jowers said: "It hasn't been the magic bullet, but it's helped."

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