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NHS adopts device to ‘zap away’ cluster headaches

12:00am | & Health

There’s good news for people who suffer from excruciating and debilitating ‘cluster headaches’.

After clinical effectiveness trials, NHS England is funding an easy-to-use handheld device that can ‘zap away’ the torturous headaches by disrupting pain signals. Around 66,000 people in the UK experience a cluster headache and the device offer new hope to the one in 20 who do not respond to traditional treatments such as prescription painkillers, oxygen or anticonvulsants.

Cluster headaches are rare, but they’re more common in men and tend to start when a person is in their 30s or 40s. They generally begin quickly, with the pain being very severe and often described as a sharp, burning or piercing sensation on one side of the head. The condition is felt around the eye, the temple and sometimes the face. It tends to occur on the same side for each attack, which can last between 15 minutes and three hours and typically occur between one and eight times a day.

The NHS-funded device is placed on the neck where it stimulates the vagus nerve. It can lead to a significant reduction in the severity and duration of pain. Patients who suffer from cluster headaches can now be prescribed the easy-to-use technology and carry it with them so that they can use it regularly to prevent cluster headaches, or reach for it when they feel one coming on.

Funding has been allocated for the device as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, which is committed to introducing proven and affordable innovations as quickly as possible. NHS England’s Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, said: “The NHS has long been at the forefront of driving innovation and, as we deliver our ambitious Long Term Plan, it will continue to be a world leader in adopting and spreading life-changing innovations.

“Innovative technologies like this could not only alleviate painful symptoms but could empower patients to claim back their ordinary daily lives.”

Susan Haydon, head of support services at The Migraine Trust, said: “Cluster headache is one of the most painful conditions that a person can experience. It’s crucial that people who experience it receive effective treatment. It is therefore a very positive step that there is a new cluster headache treatment option available on the NHS.”

As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, a special programme has been developed to fast track new and proven medical technologies and treatments into the NHS. Over the past three years it has already benefited more than 300,000 patients.

Dr Sam Roberts, director of innovation and life sciences for NHS England, explained: “This programme has been amazingly successful at getting new innovations to patients. This year we have selected some great proven innovations for support. We will build on this success with our commitments set out in the Long Term Plan, to support innovators and the NHS to remove barriers to uptake so patients can benefit faster.”

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