Trial opens for device to relieve cluster headache pain

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An implant that has provided headache relief in European patients has come to America.

Cluster headaches are one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks occur regularly and linger.

Researchers came up with an idea of a stimulator which is implanted in the mouth to provide relief. The implant has been tested in Europe and now, an American man is also trying it out.

It doesn't matter where he is or what he's doing, two or three times a day, Paul Alterio is nearly paralyzed with pain.

"They just hit really hard. They hit exactly right around the temple area and it actually feels like someone...just basically, stabbing behind my pupils," Alterio said.

Medicine offers no relief. Sometimes he lies down, waiting three hours until pain passes.

"It's excruciating pain. One of the worst pain syndromes known to humankind. That's why it's important to look at options to help these patients," said Dr. Ali Rezai, a neurosurgeon at Ohio State University.

Rezai has been involved in the scientific development and has a financial interest in the company that's making the small neurostimulator, which is surgically inserted behind the cheekbone with a wire that leads to the nerves associated with cluster headaches. Once in place, it's controlled with a hand-held device.

"The patient then has the opportunity to treat their headaches by placing this device up to their cheek, almost like you're talking on a cellular phone and to stimulate the device that's inside the cheek to treat the headache," said sinus surgeon Dr. Bradley Otto.

Sinus and oral surgeons inserted the device in Alterio.

"Other things just haven't been seeming to work and, I mean, with the pain that I've been going through for four years, I was willing to try anything," Alterio said.

In all, 120 patients with cluster headaches will receive the experimental device as part of the multi-center clinical trial over the next several years.

The trial for the ATI Neurostimulation System is actively recruiting patients in the United States. To learn more and see if you qualify, visit this website.