Cluster Headache—Acute and Prophylactic Therapy

Avi Ashkenazi, MD; Todd Schwedt, MD


Headache. 2011;51(2):272-286. 

In This Article

Peripheral Nerve and Sphenopalatine Ganglion Stimulation

Peripheral nerve stimulation may be effective and indicated for the prophylactic therapy of CCH patients who are refractory or intolerant to medication therapy. Several small studies have now shown occipital nerve stimulation (ONS) to be a promising therapy for such patients. Eight patients with drug-resistant CCH, treated with unilateral ONS, were followed for an average of 15.1 months.[68] At the time of last follow-up, 2 of 8 patients were pain free, 3 had a ~90% reduction in headache frequency, 2 had ~40% reduction, and 1 patient derived no benefit. Two patients had side-shift of their cluster attacks requiring treatment with suboccipital steroid injection. Complications included electrode migration (n = 1), lead displacement after a fall (n = 1), and thoracic discomfort or tingling (n = 2). Bilateral ONS was investigated in 8 patients with medically intractable CH.[69] At median follow-up of 20 months, subjective self-assessment of benefit was graded as substantial (≥90%) in 2 patients, moderate (≥40%) in 3, mild (≥25%) in 1, and nil in 2 patients. Six patients reported that they would recommend the use of ONS to other similar cluster patients. Complications, affecting 4 of the patients, included: excessive pain at incision site (n = 1), electrode migration (n = 3), electrode fracture (n = 1), and shock-like sensation because of kinking of wires (n = 1). In 2009, results from extended follow-up of these 8 patients and an additional 6 patients treated with bilateral ONS were reported.[70] At a median follow-up of 17.5 months, 10 of 14 patients reported improvement, including 3 with >90% improvement, 3 with 40–60% improvement, and 4 with 20–30% improvement. Nine patients stated that they would recommend ONS to other patients. Complications/AEs included lead migration, painful paresthesias, muscle recruitment, neck stiffness, skin pain, and infection. Mean battery life was 15.1 months.

The SPG stimulation may also be an effective treatment for refractory CH. Five patients with CCH, refractory to more conventional therapies, were treated with SPG stimulation during 18 acute cluster attacks.[71] Stimulation resulted in complete attack resolution for 11 of the attacks, greater than 50% reduction in pain severity without complete resolution for 3 attacks, and minimal to no relief for 4 attacks. Benefits from stimulation were noted within 1 minute to 3 minutes of treatment initiation. Stimulation was well tolerated with only mild AEs from stimulator placement, including transient epistaxis and transient mild facial pain. Further investigations of SPG stimulation for the acute and prophylactic therapy of CH are needed.


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