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New Treatment for Cluster Headaches

Nerve Stimulation Shows Promise When Drugs Fail

New Hope continued...

The trial participants were followed for an average of 20 months, during which time two patients reported 90% to 95% improvements in attacks. Four other patients reported more moderate improvements of between 20% and 80%.

Six of the eight patients said they would recommend the treatment to other people with drug-resistant chronic cluster headaches.

In a similarly designed study from Belgium’s Liege University, two of eight patients treated with occipital nerve stimulation reported being pain-free after follow-ups of 16 and 22 months, respectively. Three other patients reported roughly 90% reductions in headache frequency and only one patient discontinued treatment.

The studies are published in the March 8 online editions of the journals The Lancet and The Lancet Neurology.

Not Sure Why It Works

Neurologist Jean Schoenen, MD, PhD, who co-authored the Belgian study, tells WebMD that the next step is to figure out why the stimulation treatment works.

“We really don’t know,” he says. “We are hoping that brain imaging studies can tell us which areas of the brain are affected by this treatment.”

Diamond, who is founder and director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, says he would consider trying the nerve stimulation procedure in his patients with drug-resistant chronic cluster headaches.

But he dismissed the idea that it is the only minimally invasive treatment option for these patients. He tells WebMD that he has had good responses with another minimally invasive treatment.

“The main message is that there are effective treatments for the vast majority of cluster headache patients,” he says.

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