Treatment of intractable chronic cluster headache by occipital nerve stimulation: a cohort of 51 patients

Authors: S. Miller, L. Watkins, M. Matharu
Source: European Journal of Neurology, Volume 24, Issue 2, February 2017 
Pages 381–390


Background and purpose

Chronic cluster headache is a rare, highly disabling primary headache condition. When medically intractable, occipital nerve stimulation can offer effective treatment. Open-label series have provided data on small cohorts only.


We analyzed 51 subjects to evaluate the long-term outcomes of highly intractable chronic cluster headache with occipital nerve stimulation. Patients with intractable chronic cluster headache were implanted with occipital nerve stimulators during the period 2007–2014. The primary endpoint was improvement in daily attack frequency. Secondary endpoints included attack severity, attack duration, quality-of-life measures, headache disability scores and adverse events.


We studied 51 patients [35 males; mean age at implant 47.78 (range 31–70) years; mean follow-up 39.17 (range 2–81) months]. Nineteen patients had other chronic headache types in addition in chronic cluster headache. At final follow-up, there was a 46.1% improvement in attack frequency (P < 0001) across all patients, 49.5% (P < 0.001) in those with cluster headache alone and 40.3% (P = 0.036) in those with multiple phenotypes. There were no significant differences in response in those with or without multiple headache types. The overall response rate (defined as at least a 50% improvement in attack frequency) was 52.9%. Significant reductions were also seen in attack duration and severity. Improvements were noted in headache disability scores and quality-of-life measures. Triptan use of responders dropped by 62.56%, resulting in significant cost savings. Adverse event rates were highly favorable.


Occipital nerve stimulation appears to be a safe and efficacious treatment for highly intractable chronic cluster headache even after a mean follow-up of over 3 years.

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