More on migraine surgery

A new report by Drs. Gfrerer, Maman and their colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston entitled Non-Endoscopic Deactivation of Nerve Triggers in Migraine Headache Patients: Surgical Technique and Outcomes was recently published in the journal Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. Surgery for refractory migraine headaches was developed by Dr. Bahman Guyuron and others and was reported to benefit between 68 and 95% patients. This surgery involves cutting or freeing up nerves in the scalp that appear to be responsible for triggering migraines. Some surgeons use a laparascopic technique, which involves making only a few small incisions while others do this surgery through conventional incisions. The authors of this new study argue that endoscopic techniques may not be appropriate in many cases since some surgeons have little experience or limited access to the endoscope and in some patients this technique is not practical because the nerves could run in an unusual pattern, which would make them hard to find through a small incision.

This study involved 43 consecutive procedures in 35 patients. All patients completed questionnaires before and 12 months after surgery. The overall positive response rate was 91%. Total elimination of migraine headaches was reported in 51%, greater than 80% resolution of symptoms in 21%, and 28% had resolution between 50-80%. No improvement was reported after 9% of procedures. There were no major adverse events.

The authors concluded that non-endoscopic surgery was safe and effective treatment in select migraine headache patients.

Most headache experts agree that until proven effective in large controlled studies, surgery should be done only as a part of such a large controlled trial. Just like with previous studies of surgery for migraines, this was a small and not a rigorously controlled trial. Placebo response to surgical procedures is usually very high, however it is rarely 90% and the effect rarely lasts 12 months, as it did in this study. Considering these facts, as well as that this study was done at a reputable institution and that this group consisted of refractory patients (those who did not respond to conventional therapy, including Botox), surgery may in fact offer some real benefits to a small group of patients. We need larger and better controlled trials to figure out if that is indeed the case and what type of patients are the best candidates for surgery.

  1. Callum Palmer says: 10/12/20178:14 pm

    This was an interesting read, I didn’t even know that there were surgery options for frequent migraine sufferers. Although, from the sound of things, it does seem like most of that is still in testing. Still, if a procedure can be perfected, and is safe, then I imagine that that could really be helpful for people who deal with lots of headaches.

  2. Melanie says: 11/16/20141:21 pm

    Hi Dr M,
    I’m curious, what is the reasoning behind the surgery here?
    I was just reading this article about migraine surgery:, proposed by plastic surgeons. I’m not sure if it is similar to the one you have just posted about. The authors here claim that the nerves in migraine patients lack sufficient myelination, and so with surgery to remove the surrounding muscles, they have had positive results.
    It sounds suspicious to me. Do you know if there are any effective surgical options available?

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