WASHINGTON (WUSA9) – Cluster headaches are one of the most painful and highly debilitating types of headaches. They strike quickly and usually without warning.
With no known cause, finding sustained relief from the excruciating pain of a cluster headache has been difficult. However, a new medical device being tested by a local doctor is showing promise.
Tension headaches and migraines have been a constant in Victor Basile's life. The pain went from awful to excruciating 6-years ago when he suffered what he now knows is a cluster headache.
“It's almost like the eye socket is constricting on your eyeball and then pulsing,” Basile said. “That pulsing feels like your eyeball is going to just burst.
His pain would strike in cycles, multiple times a day, each lasting up to three hours. It's why some call cluster headaches "suicide headaches."
There are about 500,000 sufferers in the U.S. and many, like Basile, have a personal or family history of migraines.
“They're typically young, typically male, midlife, and typically Type A behavior,” Dr. Mahan Chehrenama said.
Dr. Chehrenama is a Neuro Headache Specialist who treats Basile. Currently, he uses inhaled oxygen and the drug Sumatriptin to minimize the intensity of attacks. Though Dr. Chehrenama is considering him as a possible candidate for a clinical study testing a new treatment option. It's an implantable device called a neuro stimulator.
“It's like almond shaped and that will be implanted above the rows of the teeth, the gums and the electrodes will go to the sphenopalatine ganglion,” he said.
That's the bundle of nerves deep in an area behind the nose. When the patient feels a cluster attack beginning, they hold a remote controller up to their cheek near the implanted device for about 15-minutes to begin the neurostimulation therapy.
“They actually not only showed benefits in aborting the headache in over 60 percent of the patients, but there were in some sub-populations, the frequency of the attacks dropped down,” Dr. Chehrenama said.
The device is implanted during minor oral surgery. And once in place, the neuro-stimulator stays in.
European studies show it's well tolerated by most patients and side effects are few.
Dr. Chehrenama hopes to recruit at least 10-patients for the neuro-stimulator study.
If you're interested, contact the INOVA Science Research Institute or check out the website at www.headachestudy.com.