Occipital Nerve Stimulation Study Findings
Mayo Clinic researchers reported findings of a small study of occipital nerve stimulation at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April. While the press release’s headline proclaims it to be a “safe and effective” treatment for chronic headache, the results aren’t so rosy. In fact, safety is never even mention in the release.
There were 16 participants in the study, nine of whom had permanent stimulators implanted. The press release doesn’t explain this, but I assume it’s because the others didn’t have sufficient relief with the trial stimulator so they didn’t have the permanent stimulator implanted.
The average pain decrease is reported as 54%, but it’s not clear whether this was the average of all 16 patients or just the nine with the permanent implant. If it includes all 16, this is pretty good, but if it’s only nine, it’s ugly.
Six patients had no change or a change of less than 50%. Is this of the nine patients with implants, those without or all of them? Eight patients reported 50 to 95% pain relief and two had complete relief. So, only nine patients had implants, but 10 reported between 50% and complete pain relief. Did one of the nine have two different scores or did one of the original 16 have relief during the trial but didn’t have the permanent implant?
You know that I got my nerve stimulator at the Mayo Clinic and I’m almost positive that this is the study that my doctors began after I had my implant. I trust and like these men. I’d like to blame Mayo’s public relations staff for this misleading press release.
I’ve worked in corporate communications and have also dissected a lot of academic journal articles and even written a few. All research results are massaged; generally the less favorable the findings, the more convoluted the presentation of those findings. Often it’s not intentional, but the researcher’s biases always influence the results.
Enough about the implications of reporting. What remains is that this press release does nothing to convince me that nerve stimulation is safe and effective.
Note: Ironically, I missed this article when it was first released because I was having trouble with my nerve stimulator. Because the leads had moved, having the device on made my headaches worse than with it off.