Cluster headache is a severe, debilitating disorder with pain that ranks among the most severe known to humans. Patients with cluster headaches have few therapeutic options and further, 10-20% develop drug-resistant attacks. The often brief duration of cluster attacks makes abortive therapy a challenge, and preventive medications are almost always provided to patients, but the side effects of these preventive medications can be significant. The sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) is believed to play a role in headache pain and cranial autonomic symptoms associated with cluster headache, which is a result of activation of the trigeminal-autonomic reflex. For over 100 years, the SPG has been a clinical target to treat primary headache disorders using pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic methods. Radiofrequency lesioning and nerve-resection therapies, while initially beneficial, are irreversible procedures, and the use of neurostimulation provides one method of interfacing with the neural pathways without causing permanent damage to neural tissue. SPG neurostimulation is both reversible and adjustable, and has recently been tested in both proof-of-concept work and in a randomized, sham-controlled trial for the treatment of cluster headache. A randomized, sham-controlled study of 32 patients was performed to evaluate further the use of SPG stimulation for the acute treatment of chronic cluster headache. Of the 32 patients, 28 completed the randomized experimental period. Overall, 68% of patients experienced an acute response, a frequency response, or both. In this study the majority of adverse events were related to the implantation procedure, which typically resolved or remained mild in nature at 3 months following the implant procedure. This and other studies highlight the promise of using SPG stimulation to treat the pain-associated cluster headache. SPG stimulation could be a safe and effective option for chronic cluster headache.
Keywords: cluster headache; neurostimulation; sphenopalatine ganglion.