London: Just flicking a switch can now
ease the agony of cluster headaches, claims an Indian-origin
doctor-led team which has pioneered the new method of dealing
with the debilitating condition.
Dr Manjit Matharu and his team at National Hospital
for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London says that sufferers
can now ease their pain using a hand-held remote control which
sends a charge to an electrode implanted in the head.
Cluster headaches are concentrated attacks of pain on
one side of the head. Each attack develops suddenly, usually
without any warning. The pain can strike several times a day
and attacks usually last between 15 minutes and three hours.
It is not known what causes cluster headaches. Until
recently, sufferers were given drugs to relieve the pain. In
acute cases, some patients had anaesthetic injected into the
occipital nerve, which runs from the top of the spine to the
scalp and is responsible for communicating pain to the brain.
According to the doctors, the latest technique, known
as Occipital Nerve Stimulation (ONS), works on the same nerve.
The procedure involves two tiny electrodes being inserted at
the back of the head -- one under each branch of the nerve,
either side of the head, a newspaper reported.
Then, under general anaesthetic, an electricity
generator, the size of a thin pocketwatch, is implanted into
the skin in either abdomen or upper chest. This is connected
by wires tunnelled under the skin to the electrodes.
After an overnight stay, the generator is switched on
and patients can usually go home the next day. The electrical
current is controlled by a small remote control carried by
patients, say the doctors.
The device lasts indefinitely but batteries will need
changing after eight years. There are no major side effects,
although some patients have reported some temporary, localised
pain where the generator is placed.
Dr Matharu`s team has treated 150 patients suffering
with extreme headaches and observed positive results.
"We are seeing success rates of about 80 per cent in
people who`re not responding to other traditional treatments.
No one knows when NICE is going to review the treatment, but
it is possible to be referred to us if the pain is severe
enough," Dr Matharu said.