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Pain. 2013 Jan;154(1):89-94. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2012.09.011. Epub 2012 Sep 29.

Success, failure, and putative mechanisms in hypothalamic stimulation for drug-resistant chronic cluster headache.

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Department of Neurology, Headache Centre and Pain Neuromodulation Unit, Fondazione Istituto Nazionale Neurologico Carlo Besta, Milano, Italy.


Drug-resistant chronic cluster headache (CH) is an unremitting illness with excruciatingly severe headaches that occur several times daily. Starting in 2000, a total of 19 patients with long-lasting chronic CH, with multiple daily attacks unresponsive to all known prophylactics, received stimulation of the posterior inferior hypothalamic area ipsilateral to the pain as treatment. We report long-term follow-up (median 8.7 years, range 6-12 years) in 17 patients. Long-lasting improvement occurred in 70% (12 of 17): 6 are persistently almost pain-free; another 6 no longer experience daily attacks but rather episodic CH interspersed with long-lasting remissions. In 5 of 6 almost pain-free patients, the stimulators have been off for a median of 3 years (range 3-4 years). Five patients did not improve: 4 had bilateral CH, and 3 developed tolerance after experiencing relief for 1-2 years. Adverse events are electrode displacement (n=2), infection (electrode n=3; generator n=1), electrode malpositioning (n=1), transient nonsymptomatic third ventricle hemorrhage (n=1), persistent slight muscle weakness on one side (n=1), and seizure (n=1). This exceptionally long follow-up shows that hypothalamic stimulation for intractable chronic CH produces long-lasting improvement in many patients. Previous experience was limited to a median of 16 months. Important new findings are as follows: stimulation is well tolerated for many years after implantation; after several years during which stimulation was necessary for relief, a persistent almost pain-free condition can be maintained when stimulation is off, suggesting that hypothalamic stimulation can change disease course; tolerance can occur after marked long-lasting improvement; and bilateral chronic CH seems to predict poor response to hypothalamic stimulation.

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