Look years younger! Get rid of your headaches! (True, or too good to be true?)


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Looking for another reason why you “need” a forehead lift? The surgery eliminates or reduces pain for migraine sufferers, Case Western Reserve researchers reported.

In a double-blind study published in the August issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, patients with frequent moderate to severe migraine headaches with pain radiating from a single region were treated surgically -- with excellent results.


Botox injections to the forehead, neck or shoulders have already been shown to help some people who suffer from migraines, possibly by relaxing key muscles. But the pain eventually comes back. In this new study, doctors were seeking a more permanent solution via plastic surgery.

The doctors first injected patients with Botox to determine the location of the trigger site for each person’s migraine: the forehead, temple or back of the head.

Those who reported a decrease in migraine symptoms upon Botox injections were then selected for surgery to deactivate the trigger site in a procedure similar to that of a traditional forehead lift.

In the study, 76 patients in total were assigned randomly to undergo either a sham surgery (serving as the control group) or an actual operation. Unaware of which surgery they had received, patients recorded the frequency, intensity and duration of their headaches for the next 12 months.

The researchers found that 28 of 49 patients (57.1%) in the actual surgery group reported complete elimination of migraine headaches at the end of a year, compared to just 1 of 26 patients (3.8%) who had undergone sham surgery.

Forty-one of 49 patients (83.7%) in the actual surgery group had significant improvement in migraine frequency, intensity and duration, compared to 15 of 26 patients (57.7%) in the control group.

“This is an outpatient operation. Each trigger site takes about 45 minutes or so,” said study coauthor Dr. Bahman Guyuron, a plastic surgeon at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “Patients go home right away after surgery and are back to work in about a week.”

And, Guyuron added, “We’re not introducing the surgery for cosmetic reasons. But this is more of a reason to have the surgery if a patient is [already] thinking about cosmetic surgery.”

Some of the study’s methods and findings have raised some eyebrows among other physicians, however.

Dr. Sheena Aurora, neurologist and director of the Swedish Headache Center in Seattle, said she wondered whether the observed effects might have been caused at least in part by the Botox -- and not the surgery alone.

“It seems a bit too good to be true,’ said Dr. William Young, an associate professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University and director of the inpatient program at the Jefferson Headache Center. ‘For migraines, these results are unheard-of from any treatment, anywhere.”

Young wonders whether the patients truly remained in the dark about whether they’d received real or sham surgery: If they didn’t, the results could have been confounded by the so-called placebo effect -- in other words, people who knew they’d had the procedure may have been more inclined to believe that they had improved. “Somehow, patients can know whether they got the real treatment or not,’ Young said.

Another issue is whether these results would be generalizable to migraine patients at large, said Young’s colleague Dr. Michael Marmura, an assistant professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University. In this study, “only patients with an excellent response to small doses to Botox injections were included,” Marmura said. “Basically … these are not typical patients.”

“I think they did a meticulous job of patient selection,” said Dr. Richard Lipton, a professor and vice-chair of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of the Montefiore Headache Center. “But because the patients were so carefully selected, the results don’t apply to everyone. They only apply to a subgroup of migraine sufferers with identified triggers and a demonstrated response to Botox.’

“There’s a lot of natural skepticism for things that are new,” Lipton added. “I think it’s really exciting and would love to see it replicated.”

-- Shara Yurkiewicz