Brain stimulation may ease headaches, studies find
Thu Mar 8, 9:24 AM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Stimulating the brain with implanted electrodes appears to help ease the pain of cluster headaches, two separate teams of researchers reported on Wednesday.
In one study, six out of eight patients said they got relief from cluster headaches, blindingly painful headaches that come back again and again.
Two out of eight patients in a second study said they were headache-free for more than a year using the device, and three more reported a 90-percent drop in the frequency of attacks.
Writing in the Lancet medical journal and its sister publication Lancet Neurology, the researchers said it was important to target the correct area -- the occipital nerve.
"Occipital nerve stimulation in cluster headache seems to offer a safe, effective treatment option that could begin a new era of neurostimulation therapy for primary headache symptoms," Peter Goadsby of University College London in Britain and the University of California, San Francisco, said in a statement.
Cluster headaches are marked by periods with many attacks of extremely severe headaches. Patients often must take preventive medication every day for years. But in some cases, drugs do no good.
Researchers have tried using brain stimulation before but it targeted a region called the posterior hypothalamus. Patients risk developing a fatal hemorrhage.
Techniques that stimulate the occipital nerve have been tested on other types of headaches.
Goadsby and colleagues tested the technique on eight patients with chronic cluster headaches that defied medications. After more than a year and a half, six of the eight said they would recommend the treatment to others.
Symptoms returned almost immediately when the device's battery wore down and it stopped working, the researchers said.
In the second report, Jean Schoenen and colleagues from the Headache Research Unit of Belgium's Liege University tested eight patients separately.
Two patients had no pain after 16 months and 22 months, respectively, and three more said they had 90 percent fewer headaches.
Only one patient switched off his stimulator after four months because he said it did not work.
In a commentary, Anna Ambrosini of the Headache Clinic at Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy, said stimulating the hypothalamus got better results, but the ne