Migraine sufferers also have a higher prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression, according to the study.

Johannesburg - Worse than childbirth, worse than accidental amputation. A pain so acute, old medical books referred to the condition as the “suicide headache” because it was not uncommon that cluster headache sufferers would take their lives to escape it.

But a Joburg breakthrough in treating cluster headaches may offer an end to the pain, and a chance to live without the daily episodes that last between 45 minutes and two hours.

In an article published in the journal of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, Dr Elliot Shevel – the medical director of the Migraine Research Institute – described for the first time a treatment that targets the artery outside the brain responsible for the pain.

Cluster headaches are characterised by intense, shooting pain concentrated behind the eye, occurring several times a day for periods of months at a time that recur annually.

For years, sufferers were referred to neurologists, whose area of expertise was the inside of the brain.

The treatment Shevel describes involves the maxillary artery, which is outside the brain. The artery carries blood deep into facial structures.

The study showed that patients who were having a cluster headache attack felt the pain dissipate as the doctor applied pressure to the artery, which can be reached at the back of the mouth. The treatment involves minimally intrusive surgeryto cauterise the maxillary artery.


Because it is a positive diagnosis, there is no hit or miss or guesswork, said Daniel Shevel, managing director of the MRI.

A positive diagnosis means that the treatment directly results in the pain subsiding.

Less than one percent of people suffer from cluster headaches.

“It’s terrifying to behold the blind panic of someone who realises they’re about to have an attack, it looks like someone in a horror movie.This is the only medically documented way of stopping the pain,” Daniel said. - The Star