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Chronic pain zapped away by neurostimulation that alters signals before they reach brain

August 15, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
An estimated 116 million Americans are living each day with pain that just won't go away, and doctors think there is a way to zap the pain away.

"It's like a thunderbolt of pain that goes across my body," said Catherine Vonderhude, a chronic pain patient.

For years, Vonderhude lived each day, each hour, and each minute in pain.

"Little things you would take for granted are a far reach from what you can do," said Vonderhude.

The pain started in Vonderhude's neck and then moved to her cervical region. Due to extreme pain, she had difficulty using her arms and was forced to give up her interior design business. She lived on pain medication and steroid shots. One day, the pain became so intense she forgot where she was.

"I ended up in the subway yards. The motorman didn't notice I was still on the train. I had been slumped over," said Vonderhude.

Then she heard about neurostimulation to zap her pain away, altering pain signals before they reach the brain.

"It's like having an injection, but instead of putting medication, you put a wire. There's no incision, no scars," said Dr. Neel Mehta , an interventional pain specialist.

The system is made up of a small generator and leads. The leads are attached outside the spinal cord. The generator produces mild electrical pulses, which interfere with the pain signals and replace the pain with a massaging and tingling sensation.

"This is not a cure [and] it's not an antibiotic, but it has given her her life back, and that's the most important thing that she wanted," said Mehta.

Before the stimulator, Vonderhude said her pain was a 10 out of 10. Today, she said it's a three -- a number and a feeling that she thought she would never experience again.

"It's like the skies opened up for me. I knew I had a chance the rest of my life," said Vonderhude.

The best candidates for the stimulator are people who have pain in their arms, legs, back or neck. The neurostimulator can also help with things like spinal stenosis, chronic abdominal pain, and certain types of headaches. It does not work for 10 to 20 percent of patients.


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