Treating Migraines…With Sound?

The majority of migraine sufferers would agree that when you’re in the grip of an attack the last thing you need is any kind of noise. Even the sound of whispering can be painful. The ideal is a dark room in silence. Or is it? According to new research one treatment that might help migraine sufferers is sound therapy. This sounds crazy but actually it’s had some very promising results so far.

Treating Migraines…With Sound?

The treatment in question is called high-resolution, relational, resonance based, electroencephalic mirroring. Happily, it is also known as HIRREM for short. HIRREM uses sensors placed on the scalp to monitor electrical imbalances and hyperarousal between the right and the left sides of the brain. The reason for this being that most people have relatively balanced electrical activity between the two sides of the brain. (An imbalance with one side being more active may, according to Hossam A. Shaltout, an assistant professor in hypertension and vascular research, shows autonomic dysregulation associated with the effects of chronic stress and is a symptom which is thought to play a role in conditions such as insomnia, hot flushes, high blood pressure and migraine.)

The way HIRREM works is that when it monitors brain activity, it translates that activity into an audible signal which is then repeated back to the patient. This almost instant audible feedback results in the imbalanced electrical pattern shifting towards balanced activity across the two halves of the brain and reduces hyperarousal (hyperarousal can include symptoms such as extreme tension/difficulty sleeping/difficulty concentrating/outbursts of anger).

However, HIRREM’s designers make it clear that it is not a medical device; “HIRREM [..] is not intended to treat, cure, heal, or diagnose any disease, mental illness or symptom, and individual results and duration of effects may vary.” Having said that, in one randomized, placebo-controlled research study for individuals with episodic migraine, 6-16 sessions of HIRREM were given to the 30 participants and it was found that in the post-intervention period the HIRREM group had a 33.3% reduction in their likelihood of migraine, while the placebo group had only a 13.5% reduction.

Unfortunately this is a very small-scale study, but the plus side is that it is part of a large research program with over 400 participants, and the results from this very minor, very early trial warrant more research into the use of HIRREM to treat migraines. Commenting on this fact, Hossam A. Shaltout has said that if these findings from the study are confirmed in the larger, more closely controlled study, HIRREM may prove to be a valuable new approach for brain-based healthcare.

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