Success, failure, and putative mechanisms in hypothalamic stimulation for drug-resistant chronic cluster headache

Massimo Leone, Angelo Franzini, Alberto Proietti Cecchini, Gennaro Bussone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drug-resistant chronic cluster headache (CH) is an unremitting illness with excruciatingly severe headaches that occur several times daily. Starting in 2000, a total of 19 patients with long-lasting chronic CH, with multiple daily attacks unresponsive to all known prophylactics, received stimulation of the posterior inferior hypothalamic area ipsilateral to the pain as treatment. We report long-term follow-up (median 8.7 years, range 6-12 years) in 17 patients. Long-lasting improvement occurred in 70% (12 of 17): 6 are persistently almost pain-free; another 6 no longer experience daily attacks but rather episodic CH interspersed with long-lasting remissions. In 5 of 6 almost pain-free patients, the stimulators have been off for a median of 3 years (range 3-4 years). Five patients did not improve: 4 had bilateral CH, and 3 developed tolerance after experiencing relief for 1-2 years. Adverse events are electrode displacement (n = 2), infection (electrode n = 3; generator n = 1), electrode malpositioning (n = 1), transient nonsymptomatic third ventricle hemorrhage (n = 1), persistent slight muscle weakness on one side (n = 1), and seizure (n = 1). This exceptionally long follow-up shows that hypothalamic stimulation for intractable chronic CH produces long-lasting improvement in many patients. Previous experience was limited to a median of 16 months. Important new findings are as follows: stimulation is well tolerated for many years after implantation; after several years during which stimulation was necessary for relief, a persistent almost pain-free condition can be maintained when stimulation is off, suggesting that hypothalamic stimulation can change disease course; tolerance can occur after marked long-lasting improvement; and bilateral chronic CH seems to predict poor response to hypothalamic stimulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-94
Number of pages6
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


  • Chronic
  • Cluster headache
  • Drug resistant
  • Hypothalamus
  • Neurostimulation
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Neurology
  • Pharmacology


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