Wednesday, November 22, 2006

BBC NEWS | Health | 'Only surgery can cure my headache'

Until three years ago teacher Barbara Cullen was fit and healthy, spending most of her leisure time outdoors pursuing various hobbies which included a passion for surfing.

Suddenly out of the blue she started getting severe headaches.

As they first began around Christmas time she wondered if it was due to yuletide excess, but the headaches became more and more severe. All her husband Fred could do was to sit and watch.

"To actually watch somebody holding their head in their hands and then getting down on their knees on the floor and literally shaking, you think this is not a normal headache," he said.

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At the National Barbara's headaches were diagnosed as cluster headaches.

The pain they cause is thought to be ten times worse than childbirth - they have been nicknamed suicide headaches because of the excruciating pain - like being stabbed in the head with a needle.

Barbara's only chance of getting rid of the pain was to have an operation to implant an occipital nerve stimulator into the back of her head.

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In consultation with Barbara, Mr Watkins had to explain that the operation was relatively new and that he could not predict the outcome.

My impression is that it seems to work in about two out of three people. Of course there is always a slight unknown with something that hasn't been around for a long time.

"We're only really doing it with patients who have chronic headache continuously and where nothing else has worked."

Barbara's operation involved planting two electrodes near the occipital nerves which run up the back of her head, through an incision in the skin in her neck.

The electrodes were then connected to a stimulator - a little like a pacemaker - which was implanted in her abdomen.

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