Medical Minute 6-10: A Headache Cure?

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

More than 45-million Americans -- that's one in six -- suffer from chronic headaches each year. We spend more than 4 billion dollars a year on over-the-counter headache remedies. Even prescription drugs don't always relieve the pain. Now, there's a new kind of headache therapy that may help people who suffer from severe headaches, when nothing else works.

For 17 years, Suzette Smith had to do without the girly things she used to love. She suffered with severe headaches -- pain that made feeling pretty, pretty much impossible.

LSU neurosurgeon Erich Richter offered her something new -- an investigational implant. It delivers electrical impulses, targeting the nerve problems that trigger headaches.

Dr. Richter says, "The way that interacts and the pathways that carry the pain and cause the pain to be processed by the brain in about 80 percent of people can get that pain under control."

Headache patients get a temporary electrode device first. If it works, the next step is surgery to implant permanent neural stimulators.

Dr. Richter says, "We can actually place a small electrode over the base of the scalp and that runs to a pacemaker-type device, which either can be implanted over the clavicle or usually actually in the upper part of the back."

Because Suzette has head and neck pain, her implant also includes electrodes down her spine -- all controlled with a remote.The touch of a button triggers a strong, tingly feeling that blocks the pain.

Three months after surgery, Suzette's headaches are history. Now, this girly-girl is all about feeling pretty again.

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