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Electrical Stimulation Treatment Provides Help for Some Headache Sufferers

Electrical stimulation as treatment for headache continues to show promise, with a small recent study finding that such treatment significantly reduced headache intensity and frequency.

In this country, 45 million people suffer from chronic headache, including tension headache, migraine, and cluster headache, and a substantial number cannot find adequate pain relief with current available treatments. This recent study evaluated the effectiveness of peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) for 46 patients who had received PNS between 2005 and 2012. The researchers found that the therapy reduced headache intensity by more than 70 percent and decreased headache days from 28 to 14 per month. Overall, 90% of patients were satisfied with the treatment.

“This is a real breakthrough for chronic headache sufferers,” said lead research Billy K. Huh, MD, PhD. “For patients with no other options to relieve their pain and suffering, this treatment is a way for them to get their life back.” Dr. Huh is a professor and medical director of the Department of Pain Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and adjunct professor of the Department of Anesthesiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

In PNS, doctors implant an insulated wire in the head, and it delivers electric pulses to block pain. Currently, PNS devices are not approved for headache treatment, and insurance typically does not cover their cost. However, researchers, including Dr. Huh, are working to gain approval for this device.

Experts say the drawback of the treatment is its complications, including electrode migration, equipment problems, and infection. As physicians gain experience with implantation techniques, the authors expect the number of complications to decrease.

The information was presented at the Anesthesiology 2013 annual meeting in San Francisco.

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