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British doctors test deep brain stimulation to treat cluster headaches

December 31, 2010|By Janet Stobart, Los Angeles Times
(Los Angeles Times )

People who suffer from the crippling pain of cluster headaches might get relief from deep brain stimulation, a method now being tested in Britain after years of research at University College London's Institute of Neurology.

Deep brain stimulation involves drilling a hole in the skull and inserting an electrode into the part of the brain, the posterior hypothalamus, where increased blood flow signals activity that causes severe headaches. The electrode is linked to a battery-powered stimulator under the chest that creates a current aimed at blocking the signals that cause the headaches.

Deep brain stimulation is already used for other neurological disorders like Parkinson's disease but using the method for cluster headaches is still in a trial period. This news release explains the pilot study.

This BBC news story reports that the procedure works for about six in 10 of the 80 people worldwide who have had deep brain stimulation. One of those patients, Barrie Wilson, 67, describes life before and after surgery:

"It is like someone getting a red hot poker and pushing it into your eye and wiggling it about. You get no warning, no aura, it just comes on like that. You can't stand still, sit down or go to bed, nothing helps - it is like being tortured." he said.

But all that has now changed. It is nearly four months since his operation and in that time Wilson has had just one headache, instead of the daily barrage.

He says he feels liberated. "It is a weight off my shoulders - amazing. It is just an utter relief."

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