Cluster headaches have been described as “one of the most painful conditions known to mankind.” Thankfully, they afflict only one or two people in a thousand.
But migraine headaches are not so rare. They affect 39 million Americans, and the pain is just a notch below the cluster type. A migraine pretty much leaves you unable to do anything until it goes away.
Scientists have not had much luck identifying the cause of these disorders, and the available treatments are not very satisfactory.
But here’s some good news. A new device has so impressed executives at the UK’s National Health Service, they’re introducing to treat both conditions.
It’s called gammaCore. Keep reading to get the scoop. . .
Cluster Headache Attacks Go Down by Almost Two-Thirds
Cluster headaches are a lifelong incurable condition with severe pain focused around the eye socket and temple. The eyes may water, eyelids droop, nose run, and the face can flush and sweat.
Episodic attacks happen every day for weeks or months, last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours at a time, and can occur as many as eight times a day. These outbreaks are followed by a pain-free period that can last weeks, months or years before the pain returns.
In its chronic form, attacks happen often.
To abort an attack, the most successful agent is a self-administered injection of a drug called sumatriptan (Imitrex). Another remedy is to inhale 100% oxygen for 15 minutes.
gammaCore is far more convenient and looks to be more effective. You hold it in your hand and press it against the vagus nerve in the neck, where it delivers a mild electric current to block pain signals. The treatment lasts from six to twelve minutes, and you can use it up to four times a day if needed.
All studies to date have shown the device reduces pain. Early clinical experience in the UK found it reduced the number of attacks by nearly two-thirds (64%), the average length of each attack by 43%, and the level of pain by 23%.
Huge Reduction in Migraine Pain Intensity
Migraine can leave sufferers bedbound for days. The affliction comes with a range of possible symptoms that include severe headache, visual disturbances, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.
Treatment options include over-the-counter painkillers, more powerful prescription pain pills, drugs that treat nausea, and Botox injections.
Many patients find some relief by making lifestyle changes such as reducing stress, getting adequate sleep, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding certain “trigger” foods. Supplements such as CoQ10, feverfew, magnesium and vitamin B12 are often helpful.
Other patients get moderate or no relief from such efforts.
gammaCore may help. In a study published in 2018 in the journal Neurology, 120 patients were treated with the electrical therapy and 123 were given sham treatment.
After 30 minutes 12.7% of the active patients were pain-free versus 4.2% in the sham group. After 60 minutes the figures were 21% vs.10%. After two hours the figures rose to 30.4% vs. 19.7%, although this wasn’t considered to be statistically significant. Three out of four patients who were pain-free at two hours remained pain-free at 24 hours.
Results were even better for “pain intensity.” Within an hour, gammaCore reduced pain intensity three times more than the sham treatment, and relief was over six times as much by the two-hour mark. The device also reduced the need for medication.
If this small study is any indication, gammaCore doesn’t work for everyone but it works for quite a few people. It sounds worth a try.
The researchers concluded that “This study provides Class 1 [highest quality] evidence that for patients with an episodic migraine, nVNS [vagus nerve stimulation] significantly increases the probability of having mild pain or being pain-free 2 hours post-stimulation.”
What Type of Patient May Benefit
Dr. Sara Sacco, a headache specialist from Charlotte, North Carolina, explained that an ideal candidate for gammaCore is someone who suffers frequent migraines and has to take lots of medications, or who does not tolerate drugs very well.
She is really positive about the procedure, saying, “I have had some really wonderful results with some of my patients. They haven’t had as many disabling days, we’ve used less medication, and one of the nice things is it’s so easy and convenient to use.”
GammaCore is available in the U.S. by prescription only. To find a physician near you, visit https://www.gammacore.com
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