Women's Health

New device can help healthcare providers treat migraine attacks



Brittany Barreto, Ph.D., is a podcaster, entrepreneur, and molecular and human geneticist. (In other words, she’s really smart.) Read her column here each month to learn more about what’s happening in the world of technology and innovation in women’s health.

The last time Jenny had a migraine attack, she had a very different experience than she was used to. She had pain relief, but she didn’t feel drugged or nauseous. She was able to drive home and was thrilled not to miss her daughter’s football game that night or her father’s doctor’s appointment in the morning.

In the past, after seeking treatment for a migraine attack, she was sent home with medication that left her unable to report for family and responsibilities. This time, however, Jenny’s doctor used OcciGuide, a medical device that has recently come to market after years of development and clinical trials. The device treats headaches and migraine attacks without the negative side effects that can occur if you take opioids or other strong painkillers.

Headaches, migraines and cluster attacks are the fourth most common reason for emergency room visits. And migraine affects more women than men. In fact, about 3 out of 4 migraine sufferers are women. And research shows that women have more and longer migraine attacks than men.

Hormonal changes such as declining estrogen before menstruation or fluctuations during perimenopause can lead to increased headaches and migraine attacks. Up to 6 out of 10 women report having menstrual migraine attacks.

One of the most common treatments for migraine is pain medicine. Unfortunately, some pain relievers can be addictive, and overuse can lead to rebound headache attacks. Additionally, many pain relievers such as opioids and over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) are not recommended for pregnant women or can only be used during the first two trimesters.

“As I ran a pain clinic, I was tired of seeing women sent home so confused. I knew they had things to do, kids to take care of, and businesses to run. I wanted to create a tool that would allow all healthcare professionals, regardless of experience, to administer occipital nerve block treatment,” said Jillian Levovitz, co-founder of OcciGuide.

Occipital nerve block treatment is generally safe, does not include narcotics, and has no effect on the rest of the body. So why haven’t you heard of it?

Well, not all providers feel comfortable administering it. A small amount of numbing medicine, such as lidocaine, is injected into the occipital nerves at the back of the skull. There are tips for how health care providers (HCPs) can find these nerves, but many would rather prescribe medication than risk missing the occipital nerve with a needle.

(Photo/Courtesy of OcciGuide)

To help healthcare professionals feel more comfortable giving occipital nerve block treatment, Levovitz created OcciGuide, a device that easily guides any healthcare professional to the correct injection sites. OcciGuide is a single-use medical device that looks like a strange pair of headphones. It wraps around the back of the patient’s head with arms resting on their ears. Two portholes on the back of the device line up directly with the occipital nerves. This makes injecting the numbing medication extremely easy and reduces the risk of missing the nerves for the HCP. I imagine it also means less stress for the person receiving the injection, knowing that the medical professional injecting numbing medication into the back of their head has a card!

OcciGuide Migraine Treatment Device(Photo/Courtesy of OcciGuide)

In the United States, people spend $11 billion a year in direct costs such as medical expenses and an additional $11 billion in indirect costs, such as lost productivity, from headaches and migraines. Added to these financial costs are the risks of contributing to opiate addiction. Not only are opioids addictive, their overuse can actually lead to chronic headaches and migraine attacks instead of occasional ones.

Innovators like Jillian don’t accept the status quo when it comes to treating conditions that disproportionately affect women. We want women to get back on their feet and back to life as quickly as possible and with the fewest side effects. Sometimes to create this kind of change, we just need to build a roadmap.

Information about products and/or services in this column does not constitute any form of endorsement or recommendation by HealthyWomen. The links are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. This column may occasionally cover companies in which Brittany Barreto is an investor.

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