Objective: Chronic cluster headache occurs in less than 10% of cluster headache sufferers, but remains an intractable medical problem. Surgical treatments have also been limited in their effectiveness. The authors describe their experience with attempted surgical amelioration of chronic cluster headache.
Design: Twenty-eight patients, including two with bilateral cluster headache, underwent 39 operations for microvascular decompression of the trigeminal nerve, alone or in combination with section and/or microvascular decompression of the nervus intermedius. Follow-up averaged 5.3 years.
Results: Initial postoperative success described as 50% relief or greater was achieved in 22 (73.3%) of 30 first-time procedures and greater than 90% relief in half (15 of 30) of these. Long-term follow-up saw this success rate (excellent or good) drop to 46.6%. Repeat procedures have little success, with 7 of 8 failing at long-term follow-up. Morbidity and neurological deficit from the operations was minimal.
Conclusions: Chronic cluster headache remains a debilitating and poorly controlled syndrome. Although various surgical treatments have had limited success, microvascular decompression of the trigeminal nerve with section of the nervus intermedius compares very favorably to other destructive techniques without the accompanying neurologic deficits. It is, therefore, our recommendation as the first-line operative treatment of chronic cluster headache.