Mother who suffered 200 HEADACHES a day 'cured' by brain zapper
Only 200 people in the UK with the worst cases have had the 20,000 implant



10:15 GMT, 28 March 2012

A mother-of-two who suffered 200 crippling headaches a day has been ‘cured’ thanks to a remote control that zaps her brain.

Carolyn Matheson’s chronic condition is known as ‘suicide headaches’ among doctors because of the maddening effect it has on patients.

Waves of pain can strike Carolyn, 58, in either minute-long bursts of up to 200 a day or in agonising two-hour-long attacks.

During the episodes she is sometimes unable to move or even talk.

Carolyn at home with the remote

Carolyn at home with the remote recharger

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Carolyn has lived with the chronic cluster headaches for eight years since they started on a holiday in Greece with her husband Ian, 59, and daughters Jade, 21, and Emma, 19.

But now Carolyn, from Greenwich, London, has been handed a lifeline from her misery in the form a remote control that stops her headaches.

Specialist surgeons have inserted the matchbox sized implant into chest so it sends an electric impulse to her brain blocking any pain.

The stimulator is permanently on but the strength of the implant’s impulses can be changed through a mobile phone-sized remote control, which she carries with her wherever she goes.

She now only has one or two headaches a day and has described the results as ‘a true miracle.’

Carolyn, an executive coach specialising in chronic health conditions, had her life turned upside down by the illness and every-day activities became out of the question.

She said: 'There was one time before when I was shopping in central London with my daughter and had to just lie down on the floor in Primark on Oxford Street as the pain was too much.

'I couldn’t do anything until the pain had gone.'

Her specialist, consultant neurologist Dr Manjit Matharu said many female patients had said they’d rather endure child birth every day than suffer these headaches.

He said: 'They are commonly referred to as ‘suicide’ headaches, as for some patients the pain becomes too much and they make attempts to end their own lives.

'Carolyn tried fifteen different treatments before the implant, unfortunately they didn’t work but the implant has significantly improved her quality of life.'

It took three years to diagnose Carolyn with chronic cluster headaches meaning she suffered up to 16 hours of pain a day.

She also suffered from an additional 200 short stabbing headaches a day, each lasting a minute, caused by SUNA- the term for ‘short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks’.


Short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks (SUNA) are a rare form that more commonly occur in men aged over 50.

The disorder is marked by bursts of moderate to severe burning, piercing, or throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head and around the eye or temple.

The pain usually peaks within seconds of onset and may follow a pattern of increasing and decreasing intensity.

Attacks typically occur in daytime hours and last from 5 seconds to 4 minutes per episode. Individuals generally have five to six attacks per hour.

Other symptoms include watery eyes, reddish or bloodshot eyes and nasal congestion.

The episodes are generally non-responsive to usual treatment for other headaches.

Studies have shown that injections of glycerol to block nerve signaling along the trigeminal nerve may provide temporary relief.

There is no proven cure for these headaches. The disorder is not fatal but can cause considerable discomfort.

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There is just a one in a 15 million chance of suffering both of Carolyn’s conditions together, and only 200 people in the UK have had the 20,000 implant as only the worst cases qualify.

Carolyn’s surgery was only approved once she had tried every other treatment available on the NHS first.

The ground-breaking procedure involves wires being fed under the skin from the implant to two electrodes in her brain.

In the past the battery in her chest would have been replaced every couple of years, however now the implant is rechargeable, meaning Carolyn has to spend four to six hours a week quite literally ‘re-charging her batteries’.

This is done through the skin with a charger that connects to the mains being placed above the implant.

She said: 'I use it as time to relax, as I can’t really do anything during that time as I’m plugged in, so it’s the perfect opportunity to avoid cooking tea.'

She said: 'I can feel the scar tissue and in some places the wires, but it’s very discreet, I call it my little friend as I can feel it buzzing constantly.

'It’s very soothing to know it’s there and doing its job.'

The four-hour operation was carried out in September at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.

Carolyn said before that surgery her headaches were a nightmare.

She said: 'It’s a very sharp pain, like someone has stabbed a boiling hot rod into your eye and through your head, and then slowly twisting it.'

When at its worst, she was unable to drive, was only able to work one day a week.

Simple every-day tasks such as using the cooker were dangerous in case an attack was brought on unexpectedly.

The condition was also tough for her daughters to understand initially, but Carolyn found support from headache group Ouch UK, and was then able to fully explain the severity of her condition.

She said: 'They were teenagers when it first started, so it was hard for them as they thought ‘oh mum just has another headache’, but now they understand and have been great.'

She has tried numerous drugs in a bid to control the pain, and even though the implant has worked wonders, she still has to keep using injections, oxygen and drugs to keep the condition at bay.

Carolyn said: 'I still have good days and bad days.

'I can’t change what’s happened, but I’m using my experience to try to help others- as an executive coach I talk to employers about how to deal with chronic illness in the work place.'

The wait for the implant has had a dramatic impact on her life, especially her career.

She said: 'When I became ill I had my own business and was thinking of expanding.

'Then the headaches struck, and it all came to a grinding halt.

'I didn’t tell people because I didn’t want them to question whether I was up to the job, I would work longer hours just to compensate for the fact that I felt I wasn’t able to do my work due to feeling so unwell.'

For more information on chronic headache conditions visit