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Lancet Neurol. 2007 Apr;6(4):314-21.

Occipital nerve stimulation for drug-resistant chronic cluster headache: a prospective pilot study.

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Headache Research Unit, Department of Neurology, Liège University, CHR Citadelle, Liège, Belgium.



Drug-resistant chronic cluster headache (drCCH) is a devastating disorder for which various destructive procedures have been tried unsuccessfully. Occipital nerve stimulation (ONS) is a new, safe strategy for intractable headaches. We undertook a prospective pilot trial of ONS in drCCH to assess clinical efficacy and pain perception.


Eight patients with drCCH had a suboccipital neurostimulator implanted on the side of the headache and were asked to record details of frequency, intensity, and symptomatic treatment for their attacks in a diary before and after continuous ONS. To detect changes in cephalic and extracephalic pain processing we measured electrical and pressure pain thresholds and the nociceptive blink reflex.


Two patients were pain free after a follow-up of 16 and 22 months; one of them still had occasional autonomic attacks. Three patients had around a 90% reduction in attack frequency. Two patients, one of whom had had the implant for only 3 months, had improvement of around 40%. Mean follow-up was 15.1 months (SD 9.5, range 3-22). Intensity of attacks tends to decrease earlier than frequency during ONS and, on average, is improved by 50% in remaining attacks. All but one patient were able to substantially reduce their preventive drug treatment. Interruption of ONS by switching off the stimulator or because of an empty battery was followed within days by recurrence and increase of attacks in all improved patients. ONS did not significantly modify pain thresholds. The amplitude of the nociceptive blink reflex increased with longer durations of ONS. There were no serious adverse events.


ONS could be an efficient treatment for drCCH and could be safer than deep hypothalamic stimulation. The delay of 2 months or more between implantation and significant clinical improvement suggests that the procedure acts via slow neuromodulatory processes at the level of upper brain stem or diencephalic centres.

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