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Migraine can be treated without medicine, pilot study finds

October 4, 2018
Aarhus University
Some migraine patients can cut down on medication or stop using it completely by using a newly developed inhaler which changes the composition of the air we breathe, according to results of a recent pilot study.

By slightly changing the body's own molecules using a small inhaler, certain migraine patients can either cut down on medication or do without it completely. This is shown by a pilot study which has been published in the scientific journal Cephalalgia.

Patients who suffer from migraine with aura, which is where they experience either sensory or visual disturbances before the painful headaches begin, have been examined in the study. Eleven patients participated in the pilot study, which will now be followed by a large clinical trial.

One of the authors is MSc in Engineering and PhD Troels Johansen, who carried out the study as part of his PhD at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University and the Headache Clinic at Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark.

He explains that migraines occur as part of a chain reaction during which the veins in the brain contract and the blood cannot therefore supply the brain with sufficient oxygen.

"We utilise CO2 and oxygen, which are the body's natural molecules for mobilising its own defence against migraine attacks. The inhaler expands the blood vessels that supply the brain with oxygen by up to seventy per cent and thereby stops the destructive chain reaction," says Troels Johansen, adding that the effect of the treatment starts after a few seconds.

The pilot study was carried out from 2016-2017 with eleven patients with migraine with aura. One of the results was that the effect of the pain relief increased significantly with each use of the inhaler. Forty-five per cent experienced an effect the first time, and that number rose to 78 per cent the second time.

"The study shows some very significant physiological effects in the body," says Troels Johansen, who currently teaches at the Aarhus University School of Engineering. Together with a team of employees, he has put the inhaler into production through the company BalancAir.

Since the pilot project is limited to migraine with aura and only comprised eleven patients, Troels Johansen is now planning to conduct a large clinical trial that will also include migraine without aura and chronic migraine.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Aarhus University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Cecilia H Fuglsang, Troels Johansen, Kai Kaila, Helge Kasch, Flemming W Bach. Treatment of acute migraine by a partial rebreathing device: A randomized controlled pilot study. Cephalalgia, 2018; 38 (10): 1632 DOI: 10.1177/0333102418797285

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Aarhus University. "Migraine can be treated without medicine, pilot study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 October 2018. <>.
Aarhus University. (2018, October 4). Migraine can be treated without medicine, pilot study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 3, 2023 from
Aarhus University. "Migraine can be treated without medicine, pilot study finds." ScienceDaily. (accessed December 3, 2023).

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