Surgery for Migraine and Headache: Does it Work?

Nerve stimulation, nasal surgery/septum repair, cutting muscles in the forehead and PFO closure are the surgeries commonly mentioned as headache treatments. A lot of press coverage doesn’t necessarily equal efficacy. They are all still in early phases of clinical trials. Recent opinions I’ve come across aren’t encouraging.

I’ve had two of the four — an occipital nerve stimulator and nasal surgery — and don’t intend to try a surgical treatment again. Neither surgery was effective for me and I sometimes wonder if the nerve stimulator made my migraines worse.

Surgery is so commonplace that it is normal to consider it as a remedy for so many illnesses. No matter that general anesthesia is always risky and there’s a potential for complications — including that it may worsen the condition. Not to mention that its expensive and invasive and may not even work.

I’m not saying that because my surgeries were unsuccessful yours will be too. I do caution you to take it slowly. Research the procedure as much as you possibly can. Ask your doctor every question that you have, no matter how silly or small it may seem. This is your body. The doctor may have the expertise, but you are the only one who really knows yourself.

If you have the slightest inkling of discomfort with your doctor, find someone else. If he or she tells you in your first appointment that surgery is just the thing for you, find someone else.

Although surgery may feel like your last hope, it rarely is. Few people have truly tried everything. If multiple doctors say you’ve tried everything, it’s time to get on the internet and learn what else is out there. Online forums are a great place to start. (I’m partial to The Daily Headache’s online support group and forum, but there are lots of good ones.) Maybe you’ll discover that you have tried everything; maybe you’ll find a not-so-well-known treatment works for you.

Advertisements

Closing Hole in Heart to Treat Migraine: PFO Closure Study Findings Not Promising

pfo closure migraine study

Studies linking migraine with a hole in one’s heart have been big news in recent years. Preliminary studies showed promise. Results from a large trial, MIST-I (Migraine Intervention With STARFlex Technology), are finally available — and they aren’t good. Researchers concluded that “no significant effect was found for primary or secondary end points.

Background
The hole, called a patent foramen ovale (or, more commonly, PFO), is an opening between the upper chambers of one’s heart. Some migraineurs who had PFOs closed for another reason reported that their migraine attacks stopped or were much less frequent after the surgery.

The hole is present in fetuses to allow blood to pass from one side to the other. In most people, the gap closes at or after birth. For an estimated 25% of the US population, it doesn’t close completely and the PFO forms. This remaining tunnel functions as a valve. Normally the valve is shut, but sometimes remains open, sending blood that’s supposed to go to the lungs off to the brain and other parts of the body.

MIST Study Findings
My head is too bad to give a good summary, so here’s what cardiologist and blogger Dr. Wes had to say:

This week’s Circulation (on-line version) released the much anticipated MIST trial (Migraine Intervention With STARFlex Technology) results which randomized 147 patients with a moderate to large PFOs between implantation of a STARFlex PFO closure device and a sham (or placebo) procedure.

The study’s primary efficacy end point was migraine headache cessation during the analysis phase. It was derived from diary data.

Secondary efficacy comparisons were incidence of migraine during the healing phase; change in the severity of migraine attacks based on MIDAS (over a 3-month retrospective period) and headache impact test (HIT-6) (over a 1-month retrospective period) scores; change in the frequency of migraine attacks other than elimination of attacks; change in the characteristics of migraine (with or without aura and change thereof); change in the severity, frequency, and character of migraine relative to effective closure rate or presence of residual leak; and change in quality of life based on the SF-36 questionnaire (over a 1-month retrospective period).

Dr. Wes notes that Peter Wilmshurst, one of the original main lead researchers is not included in the manuscript. At a conference last year, Wilmshurst claimed study data were not managed correctly.

Many PFO closure studies, like PREMIUM and ESCAPE are still happening. As is MIST-III, a longer-term trial with the same device as MIST-I. I’m not ready to dismiss PFO closure for migraine. This trial was a pretty big deal, but other study results are necessary. I guarantee I’m not letting anyone near my heart unless there’s strong evidence for doing so.

[via Kevin, MD]

Graphic from Cleveland Clinic’s PFO page.