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Papers of the Week

2022 Aug 17

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry

Short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks (SUNCT/SUNA): a narrative review of interventional therapies.


Smit RD, Mouchtouris N, Kang KC, Reyes M, Sathe A, Collopy S, Prashant G, Yuan H, Evans JJ
J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2022 Aug 17.
PMID: 35977820.


Short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with conjunctival injection and tearing (SUNCT) and short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache with autonomic symptoms (SUNA) are disabling primary headache disorders. The advent of advanced imaging technologies and surgical techniques has translated to a growing arsenal of interventional therapies capable of treating headache disorders. This literature review sheds light on the current evidence available for interventional therapies in medically intractable SUNCT/SUNA. PubMed and EMBASE were searched for publications between 1978 and 2022. Inclusion criteria were SUNCT/SUNA studies reporting outcomes following occipital nerve stimulation (ONS), pulsed radiofrequency (PRF) of sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG), stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), deep brain stimulation (DBS) or microvascular decompression (MVD) of the trigeminal nerve. A greater than 50% reduction in severity or a greater than 50% reduction in the number of attacks was defined as a successful response. The rate of successful responses for the various treatment modalities were as follows: ONS 33/41 (80.5%), PRF of SPG 5/9 (55.6%), DBS of the ventral tegmental area 14/16 (86.7%), SRS to the SPG and/or trigeminal nerve 7/9 (77.8%) and MVD 56/73 (76.7%). Mean follow-up time in months was 42.5 (ONS), 24.8 (PRF), 25.3 (DBS), 20.8 (SRS) and 42.4 (MVD). A significant proportion of SUNCT/SUNA patients remain refractory to medical therapy (45%-55%). This review discusses existing literature on interventional approaches, including neuromodulation, radiofrequency ablation, gamma knife radiosurgery and MVD. The outcomes are promising, yet limited data exist, underscoring the need for further research to develop a robust surgical management algorithm.