Cluster headache

Have you ever heard of a “cluster headache”? I hadn’t. It turns out this condition — sometimes known as “suicide headache” — has been characterized as “one of the most severe pains known to humans.” More than 1 in 1,000 people in the U.S. alone suffer from this incurable condition, which is similar to the number of patients with more familiar diseases such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis (MS).

The pain sensation is transmitted through the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG), which is a bundle of nerves near the nose. Autonomic Technologies is a company that has developed a treatment system that does not cure the condition, but provides patients relief from the pain. The system includes a small stimulator that is implanted in the patient’s cheek, inserted above the upper gum in the mouth. When the patient feels an attack coming, he or she holds a remote controller next to the stimulator that causes it to apply an electrical charge to the SPG nerves. This electrical stimulation blocks the pain. The patient can then remove the controller to end the treatment session.

The company is currently conducting clinical trials with the goal of getting FDA approval for the system.