How Well Does Migraine Surgery Work?

Q: I have had severe migraines for years. My migraines start in the back of my head and shoot up into my scalp and down into my shoulders. It usually feels like there is a vise on the back of my head. I have been to a lot of doctors and have tried everything from every drug out there to chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists and even Chinese oriental practitioners. A few things worked for several days or a week but nothing lasts. I went to the local university and saw a neurologist there who did an MRI and other blood tests and came up with nothing. His drugs didn’t work any better. I have read recently on the internet about some type of migraine surgery. While I am desparate to try anything, the thought of going through surgery and then not have it work would be disappointing to say the least. What is the success of this new migraine surgery?

A: Migraine surgery is based on the concept that there is a peripheral trigger or site of nerve compression which is the stimulus for the attack. One of the four recognized trigger zones is at the greater occipital nerve at the back of the head at the base of the skull which causes occipital migraines. Whether surgery would be effective can be predicted beforehand through the use of Botox injections into the area. A positive response to Botox, which includes a significant and sustained relief of the migraines, correlates highly with surgical success. While about 1/3 of patients will have a near complete elimination of their migraines, 2/3 s will have reduced frequency, intensity and duration of attacks. A recent clinical study reported that 90% of patients treated maintained good relief out to five years after surgery which as the time limit of the study.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana