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Cosmetic Surgery May Also Treat Migraines

Study Shows Surgery to Get Rid of Wrinkles Has Benefits for Migraine Relief
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 3, 2011 -- A surgical technique that has evolved from a cosmetic procedure that smoothes forehead wrinkles may offer lasting relief from frequent or severe migraine headaches, a new study shows.

The study followed 69 patients after they had surgery to deactivate muscle and nerve trigger points in places like the forehead, temple, nose, and back of the neck.

After five years, surgeons reported that 88% of study participants had less frequent or severe migraines.

Nearly 60% of patients reported that their headaches were significantly better five years after the surgery, and 29% said their migraines were eliminated completely.

The study is published in the February issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

“They did a five-year follow-up study, which is quite remarkable that they were able to do that long of follow-up, and found benefit in a significant amount of people,” says Robert Duarte, MD, a neurologist who is director of the pain and headache treatment center at Long Island Jewish Hospital.

“It will be interesting to see if other people can reproduce those results,” says Duarte, who was not involved in the study.

He also cautions that surgery should probably only be thought of as a last resort for most migraine patients since less invasive treatments have been proven to be effective for the debilitating headaches. Migraines may cause light sensitivity, nausea, chills, and intense pain.

“Surgery is not commonly recommended for treatment of migraine,” says F. Michael Cutrer, MD, assistant professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who was not involved in the study. “I do not recommend it at this point.”

Treating Irritated Nerves

The theory behind the surgery is that tiny nerves at the end branches of the larger trigeminal nerve, which carries pain signals and other sensations to the face and head, become irritated when they are rubbed or squeezed by muscles, connective tissue, or pressed against bone or blood vessels.

Study researcher Bahman Guyuron, MD, chairman of the department of plastic surgery at Case Western Reserve University, says he discovered the technique after patients on whom he’d performed brow lifts remarked that their migraine headaches had disappeared along with their wrinkles.

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