Researchers Raise Doubts About Benefits of Migraine Surgery

While surgery may be recommended to treat frequent migraine headaches, the findings of a new study raise questions about the effectiveness of these quick fix procedures to “cure” migraines.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston analyzed two migraine studies that involved the use of trigger point surgery as a cure for migraine sufferers, concluding that migraine surgery may not be the easy answer many believe it to be.

The findings of the study have not been published in a journal yet, but are being presented at the American Headache Society’s annual conference in Los Angeles.

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Dr. Paul Mathew led the study and indicates that his team found flaws in the methods of the two original studies. According to researchers, the evidence does not support the claims that migraine surgery is the best treatment for migraine headaches.

Migraine surgery, commonly referred to as “nerve decompression” or “trigger point release” surgery, were developed after some plastic surgery patients reported relief from migraines following facial rejuvenation surgery, or face lifts.

The first study reviewed only involved 75 patients, half were given the migraine surgery and the other half were offered a fake migraine surgery.

The success rate for patients who received the real migraine surgery was quite high, 84% of patients reported a 50% decrease in migraines. However, 58% of the patients who received the fake surgery also reported a decrease in migraines, diminishing the conclusions of the study.

Researchers say the studies are flawed and the surgery cannot be judged to be truly effective in relieving migraines.

In addition, the surgery carries risks and is very costly, reaching nearly $15,000. Most insurance companies will not cover the cost and it is usually conducted by plastic surgeons, not migraine specialists who are trained in this field.

Other issues with the studies include how patients were recruited for the surgery, if patients were administered migraine medication before the surgery and if any medication was taken following surgery.

Overall, researchers warn the surgery is unproven and permanent side effects are not uncommon. Many patients have reported persistent itching and numbness in areas affected by the surgery.

More than 10% of the world’s population suffers from migraines, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Migraines often cause intense throbbing pain on one side of the head, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting.

Migraines are a gene-related disorder that stems from dysfunction within the brain. Researchers are skeptical a highly complex brain problem can be alleviated by the removal of facial muscle and they advise patients to stay away from surgeries touted as migraine “cures.”


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