YOUR HEALTH: A nerve stimulator to relieve “suicide” headaches

MIAMI, Florida – Heather Prattas is a busy, active mom of two young daughters.

"I bike and boot camp and paddle board."

But something stopped Heather in her tracks: cluster headaches.

"They actually call them suicide headaches because you become suicidal during the headache."

Because they are seasonal, people often mistake cluster headaches for symptoms of allergies or stress.

Dr. Teshamae Monteith at the University of Miami says cluster headaches can affect both men and women.
It strikes one side of the head and can occur several times a day for months called a "cluster bout".

"An individual attack can last up to three hours but then it can occur multiple times a day," Dr. Monteith explained.

Because there has been little research into the cause, there are few treatments.   Heather has been on ten different medications.

Oxygen was the only thing that worked.

"A tank will last me 2 or 3 headaches."

Now there may be something better.

"The GammaCore is a non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator," said Dr. Monteith.

It works by stimulating the vagus nerve and blocking pain signals that cause cluster attacks.

"So the idea of stimulating the nerve to disrupt the pain signal is a way of potentially helping patients," he added.

Patients can control the level of stimulation.   They apply it to the neck for up to two minutes.

Heather hopes the little device will help.

"That would be a godsend."

The majority of patients enrolled in clinical trials reported getting relief within 15 minutes of using the GammaCore device.   It has been approved by the FDA for cluster headaches and recently migraines.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:   GammaCore is a device that has now been FDA approved for treatment of cluster headaches.  It has been used in Canada and Europe for several years already, and is available by prescription only.  Many patients experienced relief from the pain across multiple attacks, and many episodic cluster headache patients experienced a reduction in the duration and intensity of their attacks.  (Source: https://gammacore.com/about/how-gammacore-works/)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.