Doctors are now studying a treatment, called Occipital Nerve
Stimulation, for patients with headaches that aren’t responsive to standard
treatments. The trial is called, “ONSTIM: Occipital Nerve Stimulation for the Treatment
of Chronic Migraine Headaches.”
The treatment involves the use of the Synergy® neurostimulation system developed by Medtronic. The treatment delivers electrical pulses to one or both occipital nerves (sensory nerves) running up the back of the head. The exact relationship of the occipital nerve in migraine symptoms isn’t known. However, researchers hope that stimulating one or both nerves will reduce the frequency or severity of chronic migraine.
First, doctors perform a trial therapy to determine if a patient will respond to the treatment. Electrodes are placed on the back of the head in the area of the occipital nerve. The electrodes are connected by wires to an external stimulator that delivers electrical pulses to the nerve. If the trial appears to work, the electrodes, wires and generator are surgically implanted under the skin. Adjustments may be made in the voltage, frequency and wave forms of the electrical current.
So far, the results of the treatment have been mixed. Some people appear to gain good control over their migraine symptoms with the occipital nerve stimulation and some get a partial response. For others, it doesn’t seem to work at all. Researchers hope to find clues about who would be the best candidates for the treatment.
Recently, researchers from other institutes published results on occipital nerve stimulation for patients with chronic cluster headaches. Two small studies (8 patients each) – one in The Lancet, the other in The Lancet Neurology - found ONS reduced the intensity and/or frequency of cluster headaches in a majority of the patients.