June 4 (UPI) -- A new smartphone app may be an effective alternative to drug therapy to reduce migraine frequency, a new study says.
Migraine sufferers had an average of four fewer headaches a month after using RELAXaHEAD, a smartphone-based relaxation technique, at least twice a week, according to research published Tuesday in Nature Digital Medicine.
The app guides users through progressive muscle relaxation exercises that both relax and tense different muscle groups to relieve stress. After a matter of weeks, researchers say participants saw a difference in migraines.
"Our study offers evidence that patients may pursue behavioral therapy if it is easily accessible, they can do it on their own time, and it is affordable," Mia Minen, a neurologist at NYU and study senior investigator, said in a news release.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of women and nearly 10 percent of men have suffered a migraine headache in the last three months.
This smartphone approach, the researchers say, may replace more costly and less convenient in-patient therapy sessions, as well as drug treatments.
For the study, the researchers recruited 51 people who reported having 13 headache days each month. About 39 percent of the participants also reported feeling anxiety and 31 percent reported depression.
The researchers prescribed RELAXaHEAD to the patients and told them to track the severity of headaches for 90 days.
After six weeks, patients reduced use of the app by nearly half, and by more than two-thirds at the end of the study. They said, however, they expected a gradual decrease in use -- even as app usage appeared to increase patient compliance with PMR during the study period.
Minen and her colleagues now want to figure out how to promote more frequent use of the app. The researchers also want to integrate the app's use with traditional oral medication therapy to treat migraine headaches.
Similar apps allow migraine sufferers to keep a record of headaches, monitor triggers for the condition and how to avoid them, and send information to their doctors.
"Clinicians need to rethink their treatment approach to migraine because many of the accepted therapies, although proven to be the current, best course of treatment, aren't working for all lifestyles," Minen said.