Sufferers of cluster headaches – said to be more painful than childbirth – will be given a hi-tech gadget rather than medication, NHS England will announce today.
They will be offered a small hand-held device called gammaCore to deliver electric stimulation which will block the intense pain. The gadget, which looks like an electric razor, can also treat migraines but is initially being rolled out just for cluster headaches, The Daily Telegraph reported. The electricity blocks the neck’s vagus nerve, which signals pain. It costs around £1,907 a year for private patients but will be made free as part of the NHS’s Long Term Plan.
Thought to be one of the most painful types of headaches, cluster headaches are felt in one side of the skull, often around the eye.
They are more common in men and tend to start in their 30s or 40s, causing a piercing sensation coupled with a red or watering eye – or a drooping or swelling eyelid.
According to the Migraine Trust, cluster headaches affect between one and two percent of the population – putting 110,000 adults at risk of attacks.
In a study last year, 48 percent of patients who used the gammaCore were pain-free within 15 minutes of an attack compared with 6 percent of those using a placebo device.
It works by stimulating the vagus nerve in the neck, which runs from the brain to the abdomen and relays messages between the brain, heart, lungs and digestive system.
The device is just one of a series of innovative treatments to be announced by Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, at the Reform health conference in London today.
He also will announce a new pre-eclampsia test for pregnant women and a cutting-edge three-hour blood test diagnosis for those suspected of having had a heart attack – nine hours faster than current tests.
Mr. Stevens said: ‘It is heartening to see the NHS grasping with both hands these rapidly advancing medical innovations.’
However, gammaCore is not the only portable headache gadget on the market.
Earlier this year, patients at Guy’s and St Thomas’s headache center in London were given a small pain-relieving machine – called a single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation tool – to put at the back of their head.
The device sends a pulse through the skull to stimulate brain cells and relieve headaches. It can be used up to eight times a day.