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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Choosing Occipital Nerve Stimulation

Before going to Dr. Suwan, I had never heard of occipital nerve stimulation. I knew my pain was in my nerves, that no medications could help it, and that the only relief I got was from nerve blocks. But the nerve blocks would only last a week, so that wasn't a solution to my pain, especially since I lived in Wyoming, and Dr. Suwan, the only one I'd found to do occipital nerve blocks, was 1000 miles away in Chicago. I just kept telling myself, "there has to be a more permanent solution than nerve blocks. What do other people with chronic nerve pain do?" And when I pushed this subject with her, Dr. Suwan told me about occipital nerve stimulation.

Nerve stimulators were originally developed for people with back pain, and are FDA approved for that treatment because they have proven quite successful. They are not, however, FDA approved to treat headaches. Not yet, anyway. That's not to say they haven't been successful, or that not many of them have been implanted to treat headaches...the FDA just wants more studies done specifically on how nerve stimulators treat headache pain, and those studies simply aren't available yet. But for me, as I believe is true with most people who have suffered from chronic severe headaches, the FDA approval couldn't mean less to me. The fact is that thousands of people have found relief through occipital nerve stimulation and I was being offered an opportunity to return to a normal life instead of dealing with pain every day so there really was no choice...it was quite obvious.

Convincing the company that manufactures the nerve stimulators (Medtronic) and my insurance company that I was a good candidate for the implant was another story, but again, it was worth the battle. They wanted to see years of medical records to document that I had done everything possible to treat my headaches and that a nerve stimulator was my last option for relieving the pain. Luckily at this point I had 13 years worth of records and had done everything any doctor could possibly think of so they ended up giving me the green light. It took weeks for them to review the stuff, which was an anxious and frustrating wait, but it was worth it. Suddenly an occipital nerve stimulator was not just going to be an idea for me, it was going to be a reality. And that's when the anxiety kicked in.

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