February 24, 2003

Freides looks to tame migraine pain

By Rachel Robertson

Although the exact cause of the pain associated with a migraine headache is unknown, researchers generally agree it has something to do with the cerebrovascular system. Many believe certain triggers can cause the blood vessels in the brain to constrict, and the pain of a migraine comes later when the blood vessels dilate.

Psychology Associate Professor David Freides is investigating a new technique that may help migraine sufferers regulate the activity in the brain that ultimately produces the headache. It is surprisingly simple; in fact, the device uses the same type of technology in television remote controls: infrared (IR) light. Infrared emissions are produced by all matter that has a temperature above absolute zero.

Mounted on a person’s forehead with Velcro straps, the device is attached to an output box that reports in temperature units the intensity of IR emissions coming from the target area. It actually works more like a camera than a thermometer in that the IR system detects intensity changes in low-frequency light (invisible to the human eye) through a lens.

The device is strategically centered on the frontal lobes, which may have regulatory functions for other parts of the brain. Participants in Freides’ research study are trained to raise and sustain the temperature of the target area. While doing this they are asked to maintain a state of “relaxed concentration” and told that each person must find their own way of doing this.

“It seems like an oxymoron: How do you stay relaxed and yet concentrate?” Freides said. “But there is something about this procedure that is reminiscent of the paradoxes in some types of Eastern meditation.”

During the training process, participants are seated in a comfortable chair while watching a movie. Using the device as a gauge, they are asked to increase their frontal lobe activity, throughout the session. If the activity decreases instead, the movie will pause until it returns to the earlier level. The first training session lasts about 90 minutes, and the following seven sessions take approximately half that long.

There is much yet to be learned about exactly what is happening in the brain when people are performing this procedure and why it would help migraine sufferers, but Jeffrey Carmen, who developed the apparatus for his private practice in New York, speculates that it stimulates the inhibitory functions of the frontal lobe.

Freides is excited about his preliminary results. Of seven study participants so far, only one did not demonstrate improvement. Participants all previously had frequent migraines (three per month for at least six months), and the six who reported improvement were headache-free for at least two months. One participant who had suffered migraines for 40 years has now gone six months without one.

“I get such gratification,” Freides said, “when people come in and say, ‘I don’t have a headache.’ It’s like they can’t believe it.”

The technology is relatively inexpensive and the procedure fast-acting, with most people seeing results within two to three sessions. Additionally, it is a “treatment” that comes from within the individual; the procedure involves training rather than medicating. All of these
factors prompted Freides’ investigation.

“My getting into biofeedback was mostly based on a wish to do something to help people more directly,” he said. “I’ve been a psychologist for more than 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything work as fast or as powerfully as this does. It’s very exciting.”

In his research, Freides hopes to learn more about what kind of headache conditions are responsive to this procedure. He theorized that people with a genetic basis for migraine are likely to respond to the procedure on a short-term basis, whereas people with other types of migraines would see longer-term results.

Freides is looking for more participants 18 years or older who suffer at least three migraines per month that are not symptomatic of a medical disease. The eight treatments are free of charge. Anyone interested can contact Freides at 404-727-7459.






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