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Oxygen Therapy May Relieve Cluster Headache Pain


2 Star

Oxygen Therapy May Relieve Cluster Headache Pain

Our Review Summary

Unfortunately, the HealthDay story on this promising research is essentially the JAMA press release, only shorter. The quotes are taken directly from the press release. No new sources’ perspectives were included in the story. If the reporter read the journal article or even the abstract, there is no evidence of it. Like the press release, the story relays the major take-home points of the journal article.

The hazards or reporting-by-press-release are obvious, the most glaring being that there’s no way to verify that the press release has described the research accurately.

To be fair, if that is necessary, a note at the end of the story should disclose that its source is the press release rather than the journal article.


Why This Matters

The pain of cluster headaches can be overwhelming, and an effective medication is already in wide use.  Not everyone can use the medicine because of side effects or existing medical problems.  This study tests whether breathing 100% oxygen can shorten the headaches’ duration.  A treatment like this with few side effects would be a big help to these headache sufferers.  But the story apparently didn’t include any independent reporting to scrutinize the evidence.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story fails to mention costs for either oxygen treatment or the conventional treatment, an injection with sumatriptan.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story outlines the most basic outcomes–that 78 percent of patients receiving oxygen reported relief at 15 minutes, and that pain relief was better than placebo at 30 and 60 minutes. Still, both the study and the article fail to address longer-term benefits or harms.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The story cites the researchers’ claim that there were no adverse effects to the oxygen treatment.

Both the study and the article fail to address potential future harms, and this should have been discussed. The story barely receives a "satisfactory" rating under this criterion.

This is one area where an independent perspective would have been helpful.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story both overstates and understates the quality of the evidence.

While the story mentioned how many people were in the trial, It fails to point out the limitations of drawing conclusions when the study size was so small [particularly in the "chronic" patient category].

Yet it fails to mention that it was a double-blind crossover study, which gives it more methodological integrity.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


There isn’t any disease mongering in the story, but there also isn’t any information provided about the prevalence of cluster headaches, nor of the proportion of all headaches that they represent.  The reader therefore may have a hard time identifying the importance or applicability of this treatment.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

No independent sources were cited in the story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story fails to compare pain relief from the standard drug treatment with that of high-flow oxygen. The study itself failed to do this, but a diligent reporter would have dug to find outcomes data on the drug treatment.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story says high-flow oxygen is in "limited use" to treat cluster headaches. But it fails to say where or how it is available – or even what "limited" really means.  Two places in the US?  Twenty? 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story does a decent job explaining that high-flow oxygen is in scattered clinical use, and that this study provides some validation of a current practice.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Satisfactory

The story appears to depend solely on the Journal of the American Medical Association press release. It uses the same quotes in their entirety. All facts in the story also appear in the press release. If the reporter did any independent research there is no evidence of it.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory


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