Surgery Offers New Hope For Chronic Migraine Sufferers

Over 30 million people in the United States have some degree of migraine headaches. While there are drug therapies that are very effective, some patients either get little to no relief or have other problems related to side effects from taking the drugs. For a small number of migraine sufferers it is very disabling and little benefit is obtained despite the best neurologic care.

Plastic surgeons have developed new procedures to “deactivate” migraine headaches…and it was learned from results seen from cosmetic treatments. Usually cosmetic surgery benefits from what is learned in reconstructive surgery but this is one of the rare instances where the reverse has occurred. Based on Botox injections and browlift surgery, both which temporarily paralyze or remove certain brow muscles,  significant improvements or actual cures occur in migraines that start in the forehead. This has led to understanding the cause of migraines in some patients known as the peripheral trigger.

The peripheral trigger theory of migraines is based on certain sensory nerves being squeezed or compressed by a surrounding muscle or contact point. Due to the nerve being irritated, this leads to a cascade of events that becomes a migraine. To date, four trigger areas have been identified. Three of these are where a nerve passes through a muscle and many with migraines can actually put their finger on these exact spots; the greater occipital nerve in the back of the head, the zygomaticotemporal nerve in the temple area, and the supraorbital nerve at the inner half of the eyebrows. The fourth trigger point has been identified in the nose where a significant septal deviation makes contact with an enlarged turbinate.

Surgical migraine deactivation is done by removing the source of irritation, the muscle from around the nerves or straightening the nasal septum. This is done through small incisions inside the scalp hair or from inside the nose. Studies have now been reported that such surgery produces good results that last, with nearly 90 percent of patients having at least partial relief at five years after surgery. Migraine attacks were less in number, not as severe, and lasted for a shorter period of time.  In about one-third of patients studied their migraine headaches were completely eliminated.

While migraine surgery is for just a minority of sufferers, it is not a procedure that is associated with any significant complications or side effects. The procedures are comparatively minor surgery, have quick recovery, results are immediate and no patient yet has reported that they have gotten worse afterwards.

How does one know they may get improvement in their migraines with surgery? Before surgery, one needs to be tested with Botox injections to confirm the correct trigger site. If Botox works to temporarily improve migraine symptoms, then the peripheral trigger is confirmed and surgery will likely be successful. But before one considers Botox injections and even surgery, they should be initially evaluated and treated by a neurologist. Only after failure of traditional medical treatments should one consider this new plastic surgery treatment.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana