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Zapping Away Migraines

Thirty-six million people in the U.S. suffer from migraine headaches.
Thirty-six million people in the U.S. suffer from migraine headaches. If you’ve ever had one, you know how debilitating they can be. Now, a new device that fits in the palm of your hand is wiping away the pain.

“It was very dangerous to drive with the migraine,” Megan Doscher said.

However, now she is back behind the wheel.

It’s because of the occipital nerve stimulator. Think of it as a nerve pacemaker. Megan says before it was implanted, she suffered two migraines a day.

“It felt like somebody was in my head with drums,” Megan said.

SubmitNow, she has one migraine every two weeks.

Neurosurgeon Brian Snyder implanted two electrodes at the base of Megan's skull, near the occipital nerve.

“We place one of the wires on either side of the skull,” Dr. Brian Snyder, Functional and Restorative Neurosurgeon, Neurological Surgery PC , Director of Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery, Winthrop-University Hospital, said.

Those wires are attached to a pacemaker just under the skin in Megan’s chest. She uses a remote controlled device that can increase or decrease the amount of electrical impulses being sent to the nerves in her brain. The more pain she has, the higher the electrical impulses.

“I just stick it in my purse and I carry it around with me everywhere I go. I’m able to have a life now,” Megan said.

For the first time in years, Megan is moving forward with less pain.

Dr. Snyder says the main risks of the surgery are bleeding, infection, and hardware related minor complications. The surgery is done in two parts, a trial and a permanent, so the patients that don't benefit from the trial don't have the surgery to implant the device.

BACKGROUND: Migraines are the worst and most painful headaches. Those who suffer from them often experience the profound throbbing in the head and they become sensitive to sound and light. At times, migraines can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. This excruciating headache may be accompanied with a tingling sensation in the arm or leg, blind spots, and flashes of light. (Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache/DS00120)

SYMPTOMS: Common symptoms of migraines vary depending on the individual, but typically they include:

Nausea or vomiting
Pain behind the eyes
Throbbing pain in the head
Increased pain when engaging in physical activities
Increased pain when around light and noise (Source: http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/tc/migraine-headaches-symptoms)

TREATMENT: There is no cure for migraines, but that does not mean that they cannot be relieved. Medication is usually prescribed by doctors to help alleviate the patient’s symptoms and this is divided into two categories; preventative medications and pain-relieving medications. Preventive medications are designed to be taken daily and were created to cut down the number of headaches a patient has. Pain-relieving medications are only taken in the event that a migraine occurs to cease occurring symptoms. (Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache/DS00120/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs)

NEW TREATMENT: A new way of treating migraines is becoming highly recommended by patients and doctors. The occipital nerve stimulator is a procedure that treats migraines and reduces the amount of migraines that a patient has. The occipital nerve stimulator works with a pacemaker; a small device in placed on the skull and is linked to the pacemaker that is inserted at the chest. All a patient needs to do is use the remote that controls the pacemaker to send electrical pulses to the nerves in the brain. This is supposed to relieve migraine symptoms and keep them from returning so frequently. The more pain that a patient is experiencing, the higher the electrical impulses will be. (Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/occipital-nerve-stimulation/AN01937)
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