For suffers of severe migraines, nerve decompression, a new surgical procedure that uses plastic surgery techniques, may end years of excruciating and life-altering pain, reports the Boston Globe.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, an estimated 36 million people, or 10 percent of the U.S. population suffer from migraines. More than a headache, a migraine is a constellation of neurological symptoms that can include throbbing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting. For suffers of severe migraines, an attack can mean debilitating days in bed in a dark room.
A serendipitous discovery
Nerve decompression surgery was developed 12 years ago by Dr. Bhaman Guyuron, chairman of the plastic surgery department at University Hospital Case Medical Center in Cleveland, after several plastic surgery patients reported that their migraines improved after a cosmetic forehead lift. Others reported migraine relief after they received Botox injections that cosmetically smoothed their brows by paralyzing muscles.
“We put two and two together and designed a surgical procedure to help these patients,” Guyuron told the Boston Globe.
The goal of nerve decompression is to move or remove tissue, such as blood vessels or muscle, that is pressing against the nerve that is causing the symptoms. In a 2009 study led by Guyuron, just under 85 percent of patients who underwent nerve compression surgery reported at least a 50 percent reduction in migraine pain, frequency and duration. Nearly 60 percent reported the absence of all pain.
Dr. W.G. (Jay) Austen, Jr., a plastic and reconstruction surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, studied under Dr. Guyuron and began offering migraine surgery in Boston four years ago. Dr. Austen says that each new case confirms his belief that compressed nerve branches are both the cause of, and solution to, his patients’ migraine pain.
“Eighty percent of the time when I go to release a nerve, I find something anatomically wrong, such as a band around a nerve, or a nerve that comes through a hole in the bone instead of a notch,” said Austen.
Not for all migraine suffers
Dr. Austen cautions that migraine surgery is only for the most severe cases. He estimates that no more than 5 percent of migraine suffers are candidates for nerve decompression techniques.
To be a candidate for surgery at Mass General, a patient must:
- Be under the treatment of a neurologist.
- Suffer from severe migraines more than once a week.
- Have tried and not benefited from behavioral approaches, medications, and other therapies.
- Be at least 18 years old.
Massachusetts General Hospital’s migraine surgery program can be reached at 877-424-5678.