HOUSTON – Some patients say cluster headaches cause pain that’s worse than childbirth. Now, a little device may provide big relief to the more than 350,000 people in the U.S. who suffer from them.
Heather Prattas is a busy, active mom of two young daughters.
"I bike and boot camp and paddle board," Prattas said.
But cluster headaches stopped Heather in her tracks.
"They actually call them suicide headaches because you become suicidal during the headache," Prattas said.
Neurologist Teshamae Monteith says cluster headaches can affect both men and women. They strike one side of the head and can occur several times a day for months in stints that are called cluster bouts.
"An individual attack can last up to three hours ,but then it can occur multiple times a day," Dr. Monteith
Because there has been little research into the cause, there are few treatments. Heather has been on 10 different medications; oxygen was the only thing that worked.
"A tank will last me two or three headaches," Prattas said.
Now, there may be something better.
"The Gammacore is a non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator,"
Dr. Monteith explained.
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," Dr. Monteith 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, absolutely," Prattas said.
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.
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