Review of Cefaly, the wearable migraine treatment & prevention device
Cefaly is new wearable migraine prevention & treatment device, among the first to enter the market. It’s futuristic in its style, slick in its marketing and has received the regulatory ‘rubber stamp’ of approval from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) – which can not be an easy process as 23andMe is a case in point. I’ve been a migraine sufferer since my early twenties, so I squealed with delight at the chance to road test the Cefaly (no really…just ask Pixel Health Editor Tim Bond). But the most important questions is does it offer the revolution in migraine relief it promises? Here’s my experience…
Cefaly is a simple, portable headband-like device that transmits an electric current, delivering something called “transcutaneous nerve stimulation” or “TENS”. It’s battery operated, so no need to worry about charging it up between uses, and its light-weight material means that it sits fairly comfortably over the ears and across the forehead. An adhesive electrode, placed over the eyes (do this bit first!), secures the device in position and provides the targeted low-frequency electrical stimulation to the skin and underlying nerves.
According the clinical data (warning: here comes the science bit), Cefaly’s main target is the trigeminal nerve, which has been shown to be associated with migraine headaches.The device has 3 modes or ‘programs’, controlled by a central button:
- Program 1 (press once) – attack treatment
- Program 2 (press twice) – prevention treatment
- Program 3 (press three times) – anti-stress treatment
Each treatment runs for 20 minutes, with increasing intensity. You set the maximum intensity you feel comfortable with – just press once when you’ve reached your comfort level – although it can’t be fine-tuned up or down during a session, which would have been a nice addition.
It also comes with handy carry case, although I would have liked some sort of casing to keep the electrode safe between uses too.
I was more than a little bit excited to try this tech out – I do love a bit of headgear and the futuristic look definitely appealed. As a wearable device, it’s comfortable enough, although the setup does take a bit of getting used to (see Cefaly’s SIX STAGE step-by-step guide) so I was glad I had tested it out in a headache-free status first and was so able to familiarise myself with kit.
My first go, I tried out Program 2 (prevent treatment). At first I felt nothing, but it quickly built to mild tingle, which then increased to strong “pulse-like” sensation within the first 5 minutes. I confess I chickened-out fairly early on and kept the stimulation frequency quite low. It didn’t help that I developed an eyebrow twitch, which for me kind of counter-acted what I was hoping would be a relaxing experience. By the time the 20 minutes were up, I felt like someone had been pressing their thumb against my skull…right above my eyes. I was pretty sure I’d have a red mark too (I was wrong!). Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled.
The next time I tried Cefaly I was full-blown migraine attack. After 20 minutes, when I didn’t feel any better, I gave up, took a headache pill and was lights out.
Overall, I tried Cefaly a handful of times after that and each time the same uncomfortable sensation. I even got a headache after one treatment – when I tried the 20 minute prevention session at full power.
At a retail price of around £250 it’s quite pricey for what it is. But then, that depends on how much you’re spending on painkillers and prescription migraine relief, so that should be taken into account if you are weighing up the purchase. Personally, I’m an ‘on-demand’ user of prescription migraine relief meds and my frequency of attacks doesn’t really warrant it. It terms of durability, the casing is fairly robust, but the head-gear itself felt a little flimsy (it’s mostly made of plastic to keep it light) and the adhesive electrodes (£19.99 for a pack of 3) are guaranteed for anything between 10-20 uses (depending on which section of the booklet/instructions you read). It’s also not an entirely comfortable or pleasant experience and does takes a bit of getting used to, so unless you can try before you buy (e.g. the 60-day cooling-off period), I’d be cautious to go ahead with the purchase.
I had high expectations for Cefaly, but overall I was disappointed. It pitches itself as a “20 minute a day migraine remedy”, but for treatment at the onset of a migraine multiple sessions (2 -3 repeat 20 minute treatments) are recommended. This felt like time wasted to me, when I could have been lying in dark room waiting for the headache to pass (which it eventually does). I also found the sensation, on top of my already pulsing head, to be quite uncomfortable and I didn’t feel I could manage an hour of that!
It’s perhaps worth noting that I haven’t touched on safety question at all here…so is it safe? Honestly, I’m not qualified to answer that (I’m not that kind of doctor!), but I have my reservations. I highly recommend taking a look at DiditReallyWork.com research report for those considering giving Cefaly a go too. That said, as a preventative measure I definitely see more benefit. Most of the time we feel like we have “too much to do”, but lack of sleep and stress are common migraine triggers; taking 20 minutes of “me time” a day arguably has an enormous positive effect on your personal well-being. Now whether or not this needs to coupled with 20 minutes of electro-stimulation of your trigeminal nerve…I’m not convinced.