A small, portable gadget which can ‘zap away’ excruciating headaches is now available on the NHS to anyone in England who needs it.
The ‘GammaCore’ device is held against the neck and delivers a low-level electric current to block pain signals, providing relief for people suffering with debilitating ‘cluster headaches’. It has been successfully trialled by NHS England over the past two years and will now be available on prescription across the country.
Cluster headaches begin quickly and are often described as a sharp, burning or piercing sensation on one side of the head. Attacks last between 15 minutes and three hours and can occur up to eight times a day. Although rare, the debilitating condition is more common in men and tends to start when they are in their 30s or 40s.
Some patients respond well to existing treatments such as inhaling oxygen or taking strong painkillers prescribed to ease migraines and severe headaches, but others report they have no effect at all. Now another treatment option is available, with around 11,000 people set to benefit from the GammaCore device.
NHS medical director Stephen Powis said: “While they may be small, these devices will make a huge difference to people who suffer from these debilitating headaches – relieving painful symptoms and allowing people to go about their daily lives as normal. This is the latest example of the NHS testing the latest tech and rolling it out at speed for patients across the country.”
Matthew Whitty, director of innovation and life sciences for NHS England, added: “The GammaCore device will provide life-changing benefits for thousands of people and it’s just one of a number of technologies that are being mandated by the NHS.”
“Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we remain committed to delivering on the ambitious commitments set out in the NHS Long Term Plan to support the latest innovations and allow patients to utilise them across the country, as quickly as possible.”
How the GammaCore device works: Pressed against the neck, the device activates the vagus nerve with gentle electrical stimulation. The vagus nerve is an important highway of communication between the brain and many parts of the body. It plays an important role in regulating pain.
The electrical stimulation helps to block the pain signals which cause cluster headaches and severe migraines. It is a ‘non-invasive’ treatment and avoids the side-effects which can result from other medication. The device uses a rechargeable battery and the user can adjust and set the level of electrical stimulation which works best for them.