Can GammaCore relieve the crippling pain of cluster headaches?

Cluster headachesCC: Hermes Rivera at Unsplash

As one of the rarest forms of head pain you can experience, cluster headaches are excruciating. They’re most common in men aged between 20 and 40. While some experience the occasional cluster headache, others have at least one per day. In severe cases, these headaches  drive sufferers to self-harm.

Medications aren’t always effective when treating cluster headaches. As a result, those who suffer from them seek alternative approaches. One of the latest devices is GammaCore, which treats cluster headache pain by stimulating the vagus nerve. We’re here to look at how it works and whether it’s effective.

What are cluster headaches?

Cluster headaches are headaches that occur on one side of your head. The pain focuses around the eye and temple area, and it often feels severe. Patients who suffer from these headaches also encounter symptoms such as:

  • Restless pacing in an attempt to relieve the pain
  • Nasal congestion
  • A runny nose
  • A watering eye on the affected side
  • Horner’s Syndrome (a constricted pupil)

It’s often the case that cluster headaches are so severe, they’ll wake the sufferer from sleep. Some may experience one every day, lasting 30 to 60 minutes. Others can go for periods of months without encountering one.

Overall, those who suffer from these headaches find them debilitating. The pain is often crippling, resulting in severe distress in some cases.

How do physicians treat cluster headaches?

Physicians can treat cluster headaches either by giving a medication as they arise, or by using preventative medications. Medications for stopping attacks include sumatriptan, 100% oxygen, or dihydroergotamine. To prevent cluster headaches, they may use verapamil (a calcium antagonist), lithium (an anti-manic alkali metal), topiramate (an anti-convulsant), divalproex (an anti-epileptic drug), or a combination of treatments.

Naturally, many of the preventative treatments come with side-effects. As such, patients are often trying to find effective and minimally-invasive ways to address their pain.

What is GammaCore and what does it do?

GammaCore is a handheld device that stimulates the vagus nerve in a non-invasive manner. It does this with gentle electrical stimulation. As one of the largest nerves in your body, the vagus nerve plays an important role in pain reduction. Both cluster headache and migraine sufferers can use vagus nerve stimulation to reduce pain when attacks arise.

Interestingly, GammeCore’s manufacturer has also found that it can prevent cluster headaches. Those who use it routinely and according to their physician’s advice experience fewer headaches each week. This is especially advantageous if you want to avoid medication side effects. For example, lithium may result in drowsiness and muscle weakness. Finding an alternative to such medications can boost your quality of life.

If you currently suffer from cluster headache pain, exploring all available treatments helps you regain a sense of normality. Always remember to ask your physician for advice before trying a new remedy.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.