10. Gadgets and Headlines

10. Gadgets and Headlines

19 March 2024

Simply wanting to be reliable has led me to purchase what appear to be pain-busting gadgetry, all with varying degrees of credibility. Many conditions are targeted in this way, and migraine is particularly vulnerable, being unpredictable and with many symptoms.

In earlier times I was often sent press cuttings by well-meaning folk, but these days it’s links to online stories featuring those who have been miraculously helped, often by a gadget, which has delivered them from the tyranny of drugs. Headlines never feature those who continue to live beneath migraine’s version of the sword of Damocles. Understandably. That does not sell.

One credible gadget, and perhaps the parent of them all, is the TENS – or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation – machine, widely used medically to control pain. These stimulate nerves in the skin via a current which produces an electric pulse. A helpful physiotherapist in Auckland offered me sessions on a TENS machine, and, while it did not deal with my migraines, it was comforting.

So, when Paingone made the headlines, billed as a drug-free treatment for migraine, and it appeared to be a TENS machine lite, I had to try it, especially as it came with many convincing phrases, and could be carried in the pocket.

As it said: ‘Paingone allows the user to relieve all types of chronic pain without drugs – just a 30-second treatment straight to the point of pain. It uses a low-frequency electrical charge produced by a piezo-crystal to provide prolonged pain relief which is clinically proven to work. It requires no batteries.’ Unfortunately, migraine hasn’t often got a single point of pain and, having no batteries (good in theory), it uses my energy; and when getting or having a migraine, even pressing a gadget can be beyond me. And, like all gadgetry, it emphasizes the non-drug appeal.

Ah … the tyranny of drugs, that oft-used phrase, with which non-drug peddlers constantly feed the belief that drugs are bad and non-drugs (whatever they may be) are good. Even harmless. By drugs they mean the products of Big Pharma and prescribed by doctors, rather than anything you may pick up over the counter any-old-where. For better or worse, all drugs now carry the stigma that Big Pharma has garnered via high profile cases where they have done great harm. Sodium valproate, thalidomide and various forms of morphine are just three examples.

Not all drugs deserve this. True, they all have side effects but so do non-drugs. The reality is that many prescribed drugs are keeping people alive and active despite their side effects. Antibiotics are an obvious example but diabetes, thyroid problems and much else can be controlled by drugs.

I have no reason to doubt that Paingone was clinically proven for something, but I failed to find any evidence for migraine. Tension headaches were tested and they are very different.

Another misleading headline ‘A Low-volt Cure for Migraines’ was for Novagen, a disc the size of a wristwatch which emitted low-voltage electronic impulses. A smiling Barry Sheene – a motorcycle champion – had had relief for, it turned out, ME. The device was designed by computer engineer Steve Walpole. He also designed Empulse with the headline: ‘Migraine? I’ve had a brainwave’.

While these have all disappeared, Paingone is still available as a pen and now as a wearable device called Paingone Qalm. There is also a range of TENS machines, cooling wearable caps covering your head and eyes and much else. Online shopping has made gadget sourcing easy. But it is always expensive.

Because photophobia (light sensitivity) plays a huge role in my migraines, as it does for many others, headlines offering solutions were bound to draw me in.

‘Soothing a migraine with goggles’ was soon followed by ‘Special specs ended my 20-year migraine ordeal.’ This was Linda’s story. ‘Terrible attacks would confine Linda to her bed for three days, unable to move. Amazingly the solution lay with green tinted glasses. Linda had been crippled by migraine and though the magic specs cost £140 she hoped they may become available, on the NHS.’ To the best of my knowledge, they didn’t.

Linda was lucky. In my experience it’s not usual for migraines to have a single cause.

Though I tried all the recommended specs and hung a blue light screen protector over my computer, neither alleviated my 20-year ordeal.

Excluding the negative effects of blue light exposure has long been recommended for sleep and eye health. For migraine, while this may be desirable, it is not a magic solution as the condition, as I said, is multifactorial. Photophobia may well be a symptom rather than a cause. Fortunately, these days digital screens allow the blue light to be minimised.

Light sensitivity leading to visual overload is one reason why lying down in a darkened room helps.

However, this is not necessarily related to visual disturbances which can occur at any time and are sometimes referred to as ocular migraines. Zigzagging lines in one or both eyes are seldom the precursors of head pain for me and neither is vertigo, dizziness, partial loss of vision or nystagmus, the latter being an involuntary and alarming slow movement of the eyes from side to side.

Migraines involving dizziness are often called vestibular migraines. Approximately 40% of people with migraines have, at some point, problems with dizziness and/or balance. While vestibular migraines always involve dizziness, it may stop there or, lead to an intense headache, nausea, vomiting as well as sensitivity to sound, light and smells.

I have experienced a wide variety of symptoms as part of migraine’s aura, at least one of which is an alarming but brief disruption in language known as transient aphasia. This can be permanent if caused by a stroke. For me it typically lasts from less than an hour to a couple of days and it does not necessarily lead to a full-blown attack. Knowing it is migraine-related and temporary makes it bearable, as I can exclude myself from situations where I need coherent language.

If there is an upside to the misery of migraine as it is so often described, it is that almost everything I get, apart from the usual colds, flu, skin disorders etc, can be accounted for by my rogue brain. I do not wonder whether I have had a stroke, have a brain tumour, MS or any other condition, as I certainly would were I not a migraineur.

So far this is true. And a blessing.

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