New Device May End Pain for Veterans Suffering from PTSD and TBI-Related Headaches

(Courtesy of gammaCore)

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 36% of veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from severe migraine or cluster headaches.

While doctors can prescribe different drugs, one of America's leading pain management physicians has developed another type of treatment.

Dr. Peter Staats is the cofounder and chief medical officer of electroCore the medical device company that makes gammaCore, a patented device that electrically stimulates the vagus nerve to block the pain signals causing debilitating headaches.

The apparatus is called gammaCore Sapphire.

"The vagus nerve is the cranial radial nerve in the body," Staats told "I started this company searching for a solution for airway reactivity and anaphylaxis in an animal model. When we started studying humans, patients were saying, 'My headaches went away.'"

Dr. Peter Staats is the founder of the Division of Pain Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the President of the World Institute of Pain and has won numerous awards for his work in pain intervention. (Courtesy of gammaCore)

Knowing there was a huge need for study in headache disorders, Staats and his team conducted 60 studies in five years on vagus nerve stimulation. In 2017, their work led to the first Food and Drug Administration approval for acute treatment of episodic cluster headaches. They later got approval for acute treatment of migraines and now for the prevention of each.

"It's a highly effective, non-drug approach, with minimal side effects," Staats said. "The veteran has control over it. The doctor doesn't put a wire in the person's neck. The patient puts a little gel on a device, about the size of a small cellphone, and uses it on the neck. They stimulate for two minutes, and you repeat a few times."

The treatment is usually effective within 15 minutes.

Staats said a non-invasive, non-drug treatment can be very important for veterans and military personnel. He notes that 92% of military personnel who sustained a very minor traumatic brain injury suffer from chronic daily headaches or significant headache problems.

(Courtesy of gammaCore)

"Drugs can be associated with all kinds of side effects,'' Staats said. "Some drugs can cause heart problems; others have problems associated with addiction or abuse. They can cause continental cloudiness and unclarity. The vagus nerve stimulation is very target-specific in that it doesn't cause a lot of these unanticipated side effects."

The gammaCore Sapphire nerve stimulator is an FDA-cleared, safe and effective at-home treatment available to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is fully covered by the VA; just ask your VA health-care provider.

"I consider myself a patriot, and I look at everybody who's returning from military service as a brethren of some kind that needs quality care,'' Staats said. "I want people to know this is an option for them, because even some doctors don't know this highly effective therapy exists, and all they have to do is ask for it."

To learn more about how gammaCore Sapphire works, visit its website.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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