Stanford opens headache clinic for common ailments

Aug. 11, 2011, 2:06 a.m.

The Stanford Neuroscience Clinic recently opened a headache clinic dedicated to researching and treating common causes of headaches and migraines.

According to its website, the clinic addresses “proper diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan” for headache sufferers. It tackles medical issues and also approaches headache management through treatments including massage, cranio-sacral work, stress management, biofeedback, yoga and nutritional counseling.

Stanford opens headache clinic for common ailments
The Stanford Headache Clinic is the 12th of its kind in the country. (STEPHANIE ENGLE/The Stanford Daily)

There are only 12 headache programs in the United States, but clinic director and clinical professor of neurology Robert Cowan said the field is growing.

“We’re gaining recognition,” he said. “It’s really starting to get more press, and major medical institutions are now recognizing it, even though there are a large population not getting adequate headache care.”

Cowan said he is excited to be pioneering the program at Stanford, having dedicated his career to the study of headaches and migraines.

“I was running the program at USC until 2000, and I’ve been working for a private foundation since then which provided headache care regardless of the ability to pay,” he said. “I came here because I missed being in an academic environment.”

Stanford is not the first university to support a headache clinic. A similar facility currently operates at UC-San Francisco.

The funding for the clinic comes from patient revenues, donors, the University and the medical center. Currently, the clinic is staffed by Cowan and clinical instructor in anesthesia Meredith Barad, though Cowan hopes the staff will continue to grow.

“I feel like we already have a great system and great facilities even though there are just two physicians,” Barad said.

“We’re in the process of developing a fellowship program, so we’ll be asking a fellow to join us in the near future,” he said.

While around 20 patients have received treatment over the past week, Cowan said the clinic is not yet in full operation.

“We’re still getting all our systems going and simultaneously seeing patients,” he said. “We have to create a headache-friendly environment. No loud sounds and things like that.”

While the clinic requires patients to have a primary care doctor, a referral is not necessary to seek consultation and treatment.

“We’ve got a fairly elaborate pre-visit form,” Cowan explained. “We take about 15 pages to get a really detailed headache history. Soon, we’ll have that as an interactive website to create a much more dynamic history form.”

“I would like to see the clinic grow to be the premier headache resource on the West Coast,” Barad said. “We could really serve as an internationally renowned clinic.”

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