Ice Cubes in the Head -- MEDICA - World Forum for Medicine

Ice Cubes in the Head

Foto: Eiswürfel

Thinking of coldness can alleviate
pain; © S. Hainz/

Until recently she took drugs, laid in bed and was waited. Karin C. suffers from migraine for 25 years. For the first time the splitting headache appeared with 14 years. Especially during the last years they come more often, at least once a month. But now something has changed. Today the 40-year old patient thinks of ice cubes if a migraine attack is coming.

About ten million people suffer from migraine only in Germany. Karin C. is one of them. The pain pulses on one side of the head. Light and noise are hardly to bear for many sufferers. Sickness or visual and neurological disorders belong also to the symptoms and make life harder for these people. Up to now it is not possible to cure migraine. Only the symptoms can be reduced. That is why many patients take drugs. So does Karin C. for many years.

Special drugs to treat severe migraine attacks are triptanes. Karin C. also takes them. “After two hours I can manage my everyday life at least”, she said. But drugs cause side effects and are not a permanent solution to solve the problem. Migraine attacks return some time later. “They are part of my life”, the patient says. Then she has to take drugs again. That is why Karin C. searched for alternatives. She read about a method which is called biofeedback. Due to this treatment she hopes to reduce her pain attacks and make drugs less necessary.

Pictures are important for success

This is also the aim of Barbara Timmer. She leads the section biofeedback at Klinik Roseneck and wants to reduce migraine attacks of her patients by half. She lead Karin C. through seven sessions of biofeedback. The method comes from behavioural medicine. Many physical processes pass off unconsciously. Making these processes conscious is the aim of biofeedback. The patient should learn to control the origin of his afflictions.

That is why Karin C. had to sit down in front of a computer at first. It does not care if she thought ice cubes, a compressed sponge or a tunnel. “The images must have something to do with coldness or density”, says Timmer. In doing so the temporal artery should compress. During a migraine attack this artery suddenly stretches itself so that many messengers which indicate pain are released. The process is visualised via a photo detector which sends light through the artery every tenth of a second. These data are converted and the patient sees a circle or two parallel lines on the monitor.

Photo: Green lines on a monitor
The green lines show the wideness of the temporal artery;
© Klinik Roseneck

By this way Karin C. learned to control her artery through minds. However, training is necessary. “At the beginning I thought at ice cubes in a cold coke.” She expected that the lines moved a little bit together. But the contrary happened. The reason was logical but also surprising. Karin C. thought at the same time that a cold drink tastes good on high temperatures. The thoughts of heat were stronger and that was reported back on the monitor. If Karin C. thought only of ice cubes, the lines moved together. “It was surprising to see that I can influence my body with such imagines”, says Karin C. enthusiastically.

Same effect like drugs

Tension headache can also be treated with this method. The electrical potential of muscles on the back on the head, neck and shoulders are measured, though. Studies show that the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks and of tension headache can be reduced by 30 to 50 percent due to biofeedback. These results are similar to drug therapy, only without harmful side effects.

But first the patients have to clear a hurdle. Not all doctors know this method. “I read about biofeedback in the internet”, says Karin C. If ice cubes in her head might reduce the migraine attacks permanently remains to be seen. Karin C. just returned back from her stay in hospital.

Simone Heimann