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.

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“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.

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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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Thomas Jefferson University Headache Center