Whether you get crippling migraines or a lingering dull ache that lasts throughout the workday, we can all agree that headaches suck. For many, a cup of tea and some paracetamol will alleviate the pain – but for people with cluster headaches, current remedies simply won’t cut it. Luckily, a new device being rolled out by the NHS may have just the solution.
The gammaCore non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation device is a small, handheld piece of technology that uses electrical signals to disrupt pain signals that run through a vital nerve in the neck. Targeted at alleviating the pain caused by cluster headaches, the gammaCore Sapphire is held up against the side of the neck and activated to rapidly remove pain and prevent reoccurrence if the user feels one is coming on.
“While they may be small, these devices will make a huge difference to people who suffer from these debilitating headaches – relieving painful symptoms and allow people to go about their daily lives as normal." said NHS Medical Director Stephen Powis in a statement.
While the mechanism of action is not fully understood, it is thought that NVNS elevates GABA levels in the brain, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that blocks nervous system activity.
GammaCore is already approved by the FDA after emergency approval was granted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic for use in cases of asthma exacerbation in July 2020. This approval was then expanded in February 2021 to include the use of gammaCore for acute and preventative treatment of migraines in adolescents from 12 to 17 years old.
“Migraine is a very common disease in adolescents that can affect them at home, school and socially. gammaCore, which can be used acutely to treat migraine attacks, or when used daily can decrease the number of attacks, is an exciting treatment that I look forward to offering to my adolescent patients,” said Dr Andrew Hershey, Director of Neurology at Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center and Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, in a statement from February.
Now, a new initiative from the NHS to push forward innovative tech has included the approval and rollout of gammaCore for people suffering cluster headaches and migraines. This new initiative, called the MedTech Funding Mandate, involves increased funding to drive forward medical technology that meets various criteria (such as the technology being affordable, money-saving, and effective), with the hope that this technology can reach patients faster. A consultation for the launch of the MedTech Funding Mandate was released in January 2021, but it was delayed due to COVID-19 until April 1, 2021.
There is now hope that gammaCore can reach patients who need it most, with an estimated 27,400 people suffering from cluster headaches in the UK per year. Current treatments include drugs such as verapamil, which work to alleviate the symptoms of episodic cluster headaches, but also come with some potential side effects, including nausea, dizziness, and constipation. NVNS, however, appears completely safe in recent trials, with a low incidence of side effects and no serious side effects.