Microsurgery for Migraines

December 10, 2008 6:33:52 PM PST
Imagine waking up every morning with a splitting headache and then trying to get through the rest of the day in constant pain. Twenty-eight-million people in the United States suffer from migraines and most of them are told medication is the only treatment, but some doctors are performing a new kind of surgery that could heal the headaches for good.Maria McIntyre works for a company that trains people in the building industry, but the constant pounding that nagged her for years didn't come from work; it came from her chronic migraines.

"You wonder what is it that would give you a permanent state of pain like this that doesn't go away," McIntyre recalled to Ivanhoe.

She was taking a pile of pills that only eased the pain temporarily, but then she found a doctor with a permanent solution.

"It's very cool to help somebody who had pain for 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years," Ivan Ducic, M.D., Ph.D., a plastic surgeon at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Ducic is one of only a few surgeons performing microsurgery for migraines. He says sometimes a pinched nerve in the head is to blame. In the procedure, he removes a small part of the muscle that's pressing on the nerve, which relieves the pain.

"The nerve theoretically, after it's been decompressed, should regenerate and clinically then respond to no headaches or at least diminished headaches after the surgery," Dr. Ducic explained.

The surgery works for about 80-percent of people. The others can have a second surgery to remove the nerve completely.

"These nerves have nothing to do with the function of your brain, arms, legs," Dr. Ducic assured. "You can not be paralyzed from them because they're only purely sensory nerves."

Those eligible for the surgery have suffered from migraines for at least six months, are seeing a headache specialist and feel tenderness in the back, side and front of the head. Two surgeries fixed McIntyre's problems.

"I'm a much friendlier person," she said. "I'm much easier to work with."

Now, she's focused on housing issues instead of headaches.

Microsurgery is an outpatient surgery that takes about an hour-and-a-half. Patients usually feel complete relief in about three months. Side effects are rare and only a handful of people end up with infections.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Georgetown University Hospital, Division of Plastic Surgery
(202) 444-8751
http://www.georgetownuniversityhospital.org

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