Recent interest in the possible role of substance P and other vaso-active polypeptides of the trigeminal vascular system, in the pathogenesis of vascular headache, has lad to a reconsideration of the value of ablative procedures on the trigeminal nerve in the control of chronic, medically intractable cluster headache. Twenty-seven patients with disabling intractable chronic cluster headache underwent radiofrequency trigeminal gangliorhizolysis. Indications included total resistance to prophylactic treatment, narcotic dependency, hypercorticism, and contra-indications to ergotamine and methysergide as a result of severe ischemic heart disease. The procedure had to be repeated in 6 patients, once in 4 and twice in 2. The average follow-up period was 28 months with a range of 6 to 63 months. Excellent results were obtained in 15 patients, very good in 2, good in 3, fair in 1 and poor in 6. Complications were anesthesia dolorosa, stabbing pain over the vertex, ice-pick like pain over the ipsilateral eye, transient corneal infection, transient diplopia, localized dermatosis, and recurrent stye. Complications were mild and transient in the majority of the patients, and the benefits from the surgery far outweighed the discomfort from the complications. The reasons for poor results in some patients were analyzed.
It is concluded that radiofrequency trigeminal gangliorhizolysis is a reasonable alternative in patients with chronic cluster headache 1) who are totally resistant to medical treatment, 2) with a history of strictly unilateral headache, and 3) with stable personality profile and low addiction proneness.