New hope for migraine sufferers



Posted on February 24, 2010 at 5:26 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 25 at 1:38 AM

DALLAS -- By some estimates, 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches. More than half of them suffer from migraines.

Migraines have been known to drive some sufferers to suicide, they are so painful.

A relatively new procedure being tried in North Texas is helping some patients who've been unable to find relief with traditional treatments.

For years, Kimberly Shoaf lived in misery from the intense migraines that plagued most of her days and nights.

"Just like knives piercing into your temple and your eyes and your ears," is how Shoaf explains the pain. "Your whole face can hurt from it. I had the type where I sat down or laid down, they would become unbearable, so that I would have to go to the emergency room."

A relatively new approach to migraine treatment has virtually stopped those excruciating headaches.

Wires, implanted under the skin deliver electrical impulses, or neurostimulation, to the nerves that cause headache pain.

"Specifically to two nerves in the back of the head called the greater occipital nerves," explains Dr. Ken Reed, a pain expert at Forest Park Medical Center in Dallas, "In our cases here, two nerves in the front of the head above the eyebrows, the super orbital nerves. "

Dr. Reed likens the neurostimulator to a pacemaker for headache nerves.

Neurostimulation has been used for years to treat chronic pain. Devices implanted in the brains of Parkinson's patients can help control tremors experienced by those patients.

The neurostimulation wires for this procedure are placed under the skin during a procedure that takes less than two hours. Insurance coverage varies.

"This is not simply covering over headache pain," says Dr. Reed, "It virtually just completely stops the headaches. We see 90-to-100 percent pain relief in the headaches."

"It's amazing, it's life-changing," says Kimberly Shoaf, who says she now enjoys life again. After having the neurostimulation surgery last July, she says the migraines that made her life miserable are now gone.