New Procedure Zaps Headaches

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A new headache zapper is a revolutionary way to treat chronic headaches, which 45 million Americans suffer with.

Carrie Preston, 30, is planning her wedding. She’s all smiles with her fiancé now that her brain is getting zapped.

“It’s definitely a different feeling. It doesn’t get in the way of anything. It’s just sort of in the background,” Preston said.

She says a tingling feeling in her head has replaced excruciating headache pain that almost ruined her life.

“Just shooting, throbbing, stabbing type pain,” Preston said.

For years, Preston suffered with cluster migraine headaches that often got so bad that she had to be hospitalized to get IV medications, which would temporarily ease the pain. However, nothing really worked.

Desperate, Preston turned to Dr. Ashwini Sharan, a neurosurgeon at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

He treated her with a device similar to a cardiac pacemaker, but this one targets nerves in the brain, and requires surgery with general anesthesia. It’s implanted in the chest.

The pacemaker is connected to a wire that’s internally threaded just under the skin into her forehead, where electrical impulses are delivered.

“We’re firing them so high that we’re actually preventing the way the nerves should be working. We’re actually inhibiting the nerves. We are suppressing her ability to sense the headache,” said Dr. Sharan.

It’s called occipital nerve stimulation. It tricks nerves in the brain, so the pain is no longer felt.

“It’s been amazing. I couldn’t say enough wonderful things about it,” Preston said.

She’s had the pacemaker for two years now. The headaches aren’t completely cured, but the pain has been significantly reduced.

The pacemaker is charged with an external battery every two weeks. Now, Preston has become a legend among her friends.

“They all look at me like I’m a bionic person now,” Preston said.

With the pain now under control, Preston, a nurse, is in graduate school, and back to her busy life. She’s even enjoying the piano again.

“It definitely had a tremendous impact on my life,” Preston said.

Dr. Sharan said the impulses from the pacemaker can be adjusted, or turned off completely and removed. Next, they’ll be testing it on patients with depression and drug addictions. The procedure is covered by some insurance companies.


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  • Nikki

    No matter what they do, there is still no cure for Migraines. I have been a sufferer all my life but I would rather not have something implanted in my head for a non-life-thretening disease as this. A pacemaker is another story.

  • Becky Lohr

    I also suffer with cluster migraines and they are horrible. While I’m not sure about having a wire placed in my head I would love to have more information on this procedure. My life is basically at a stand still…….it’s impossible to make plans since I have a migraine almost everyday. There is no quality to my life which in turn causes depression.

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    […] New Procedure Zaps Headaches « CBS Pittsburgh […]

  • mary ann scungio

    i saw the piece last nite on Dr. Ashwini Sharan and the headache zapper.
    do you have an email address, i can use to check to see if i am a candiate for the zapper.
    I have had a consent headache for more than 12 years.
    I have seen around 20 neuralogists in pitts. no one could ever figure it out or help me.

  • Robert&Brenda Sloppy

    My wife has been suffering with cluster miigraine headaches since january of 2000. She has seen nukerous neuralogist and has been on Imatrex sulfate injection for years,plus other numerous medications No one should ever endure the pain i see her go thru. I saw the piece with Dr. Sharan and thought this could be the answer we’ve been looking for. Can you send us any information on how she could become a canidate for this procedure,or a web site we can go toofor more info.Her life has not been the same since these teribble debilitating headaches have started.

  • Hani Gabriel

    This is also done in Pittsburgh in few pain centers in conjunction with expert surgeons. I am aware of few cases done in pittsburgh too.

  • Missy

    I’ve had migraines starting @ 15yrs old & I’m now 34. Thats a little more than half of my life. When you have a migraine that completley takes over your life and you can do nothing else but be in pain then I would be up to try any kind of treatment. I’ve been on dozens of medications and injections and the migraines are just not under control. The migraines control my life and my famliy. If this “headache zapper” would get rid of even half of the migraines that I have in one month it would be a godsend. It would give me a half a month back to try and live life. To those that say you would never put anything in your brain for a non-life threathen condition, all I have to say is then migraines are not controling your life, you dont have sever migraines. I have a totally debilitating migraines (where I can do nothing!!!) at least 20 out of the 30/31 days of a month. I am all for any new treatments and would be willing to try!!!

  • Janice Smarto

    I have suffered from Cluster headaches for 40 years. Started when I was only 16 but was headache free a few years in between. I now have the attaches for the past 12 years every year for 35 to 50 days every day. As the years go on they worsen. Some attachs last for 5-6 hours a day. When they dissapear they are gone until the next attach 9 months to 1 year. I need some help. Have tried it all. Oxygen, metergine, all chanel blockers, steriords. They have to run a course but mean time I am in agoney. Any sugestions from fellow Cluster patients. When I saw this on TV and read these findings my neurologist says I am not a candidate for this type of devise. I am in Pittsburgh Pa. Any medication advice.

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