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Electrode implant to relieve severe headaches

June 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
For 17 years Suzette Smith suffered with severe headaches, a pain that made feeling pretty much impossible.

"When the headaches start it works down into your shoulders, into your neck to where you have a hard time sitting up and doing simple things," said Smith. "The headaches were so sensitive in my head I couldn't hardly brush my hair anymore."

Louisiana State University Neurosurgeon Dr. Erich Richter offered her something new- an investigational implant. It delivers electrical impulses, targeting the nerve problems that trigger headaches.

"The way that interacts and the pathways that carry the pain and cause the pain to be processed by the brain in about 80 percent of people can get that pain under control," said Richter.

Headache patients get a temporary electrode device first. If it works, the next step is surgery to implant permanent neural stimulators. LSU is one of only a few medical centers in the U.S. performing this investigational procedure.

"We can actually place a small electrode over the base of the scalp and that runs to a pacemaker-type device," said Richter. "Which either can be implanted over the clavicle or usually actually in the upper part of the back

Because Smith has head and neck pain, her implant also includes electrodes down her spine. It is all controlled with a remote.

The touch of a button triggers a strong, tingly feeling that blocks the pain.

"Now I have no more headaches," said Smith.

Three months after surgery, Smith's headaches are history and she can enjoy life again.


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