MUSC Health’s surgeons perform migraine surgery on Denise Stout at Ashley River Tower.

Migraine Surgery

Migraine headaches are a neurological disease that frequently have a wide range of symptoms, the most common being a headache. It is an extremely debilitating condition which the World Health Organization (WHO) considers to be one of the 20 most debilitating medical conditions in the world.

Migraine headaches are unfortunately all too common. In fact, migraine headaches affect more people than both asthma and diabetes combined. It is estimated that 37 million people in the United States suffer from migraine headaches while 18 percent of women and 6 percent of men report having at least one migraine episode over the past year. Women experience migraines more frequently than men and it is estimated than nearly 30 percent of women are affected over the course of their lifetime. It is also common for migraine patients to have a family member or relative who suffers from migraine headaches due to their likely genetic and family predisposition.

What is Migraine Surgery?

Surgery for migraine headaches was first discovered by Cleveland plastic surgeon Bahman Guyuron, MD, who noticed that patients were reporting migraine relief after undergoing cosmetic brow-lift surgery. Research later showed that release of the supraorbital nerve, which is commonly done during brow-lift surgery, was the reason for this improvement.

Since that discovery, we have been perfecting the surgical options to provide long-term relief from migraine headaches. We now know of several other nerves that can trigger migraines headaches. Surgical treatment typically includes decompression of one or more of these nerves, similar to the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Migraine surgery may be an effective treatment for patients whose symptoms do not respond to medications or other interventions. It can also be an alternative treatment option for those who develop side effects from the medications that they currently use to treat their migraine headaches. The MUSC Health Advanced Migraine Surgery Program offers novel surgical procedures to treat migraine headaches. Surgical treatment can provide a long-term solution for patients who are severely or chronically affected by migraines. Depending on the type of migraine, we may use a minimally invasive technique to remove the portion of the nerve that is irritated or by removing the muscle around the nerve which is pinching or irritating it. Another approach targets other small nerves or muscles in the face or neck. For example, we may relieve nasal migraine trigger points through septoplasty, a surgical procedure for repairing a deviated septum in the nose.

The procedure is typically performed on an outpatient basis under local or general anesthesia. On average, the procedure only takes one to two hours, however the duration of the procedure is dependent upon the number of trigger sites that need to be released. The surgery is NOT an intracranial (in the brain) procedure. We simply treat the nerves beneath the skin which are triggering the migraine headaches. Patients can go home the same day of the surgery and the typical recovery lasts approximately one week.

Treatment Results

The surgical treatment of migraine headaches has been extensively studied over the past ten years by a variety of medical specialists. These studies have shown that the procedure can provide long-term relief as well as a potential cure for migraine headaches. Currently, this is one of the only treatment options that has the potential to permanently eliminate migraine headaches.

The multiple studies which have been performed to evaluate the outcomes of migraine surgery have provided evidence that the procedure is effective. Many of these studies have reported that the procedure is effective over 90 percent of the time. They have also shown that the procedure can result in the complete relief of migraine headaches in up to 50 percent of patients.

Overall, the procedure is able to provide our patients with significant to complete relief of their migraine headaches. As a result, the MUSC Health Advanced Migraine Surgery Program is able to offer a solution as well as hope to the millions of people who suffer from migraine headaches.

Review our migraine surgery patient resources.