(CBS News) BAHAMA, N.C. - Horses are a big part of Alice Jowers' life. But
because of her chronic, debilitating migraine headaches, Jowers cannot find
peace caring for her beloved animals.
When a headache hits, the pain is agonizing.
"It is stabbing, searing - as if someone takes a hot poker and just sticks it
right through your temple and into your eye," she said.
The 60-year-old is one of 45 million Americans who suffer from chronic
headaches. For many headache sufferers, medication, injections and even
psychotherapies simply aren't effective.
/ CBS News
Now, science may have a new way to help these people. In a small but
long-term study, researchers say they have had real success with a device
implanted in patients' heads.
Desperation drove Jowers to become one of 46 patients taking part in the
long-term electronic pulse study. Two years ago, surgeons implanted a device on
her skull under the skin. When she feels the symptoms of a headache coming on,
she activates a trigger using a magnet on a small control box implanted in her
lower back. That sends an electric pulse along wires to a specific nerve in her
There are short-term medical uses for this technology already available, but
this is the first promising long-term migraine treatment of its kind. The
electric stimulation of the nerve reduced average headache intensity by more
than 70 percent, researchers say.
Lead researcher Dr. Billy Huh says the results have been life-changing for
some of his patients.
"The most important thing, they were able to have a family, enjoy life
basically without suffering from this debilitating disease," said Huh, who is
medical director of the Department of Pain Medicine at The University of Texas
MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and adjunct professor of the Department of
Anesthesiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
"This treatment offers hope to those patients and a chance," Huh said.
Researchers have found that t treatment doesn't work for everyone, and there
can be complications. The device can cause infection and in some cases its
electrodes can move around the skull.
But Jowers doesn't care. For her, any relief is an improvement.
"It hasn't been the magic bullet," she said. "But it's helped."