New Implant Studied for Chronic Migraine Treatment
A new medical implant that stimulates the occipital nerve has shown promise in the treatment of chronic migraines, according to Joel Saper, M.D., who spoke at the 2009 American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM) annual meeting.
Participants in the study, performed at Michigan Head Pain and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor, had a battery-operated nerve stimulator implanted to see if it would alleviate pain caused by their migraines. The implant was placed in the stomach region, and electrical leads run along the spine, ending at the occipital nerve at the base of the skull.
Thirty-nine percent of the patients in the study found the stimulator blocked their migraine pain, and it is important to note that these were patients who had never experienced pain relief from the triptan drugs commonly used to treat this condition.
Nerve stimulation therapy has already been successfully used for treatment of other medical conditions, including back pain, epilepsy, and depression, so it seems likely that it will be proven effective in the treatment of migraine pain.
However, the Michigan study was small, and involved only 68 patients. More investigation will be necessary before the nerve stimulator device can be approved by the FDA. In addition, the device does have at least one reported potential drawback—the electrical leads can migrate. In some participants the leads moved around and actually made migraine pain worse.
Also, this is no simple surgery, and anyone who would opt for having a medical implant that involves wire leads being placed along the spine should do so only after exhausting other less invasive options. Of course, no one understands the truly debilitating effects of chronic pain better than those who live with it day-to-day. As the technology surrounding nerve stimulator implants improves, it could offer a real solution to the blinding pain that migraine patients must cope with on a regular basis.
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