Deep Brain Stimulation for Migraine Headaches- Is it safe?

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Migraine headaches can be excruciating to the point that you’ll stop at nothing short of reaching into your brain and groping around for the “off” switch.  Now, scientists hope to be able to cure migraines and other chronic headaches by doing just that.  Deep brain stimulation is currently being used to treat movement disorders multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease; still in it’s infancy stage is the possibility of using deep brain stimulation to treat migraine headaches, as well.


What is deep brain stimulation (DBS)?

Deep brain stimulation is a therapy that uses a battery-operated “neurostimulator” to treat certain areas of the brain with electrical impulses.

  • First, a neurostimulator is surgically implanted under your skin around your collarbone, chest area, or stomach.  This device is similar to a pacemaker, and used to generate electrical shocks.
  • Next, a thin wire extension is inserted under your skin, acting as a conduit between the neurostimulator and a small electrode.
  • Finally, by drilling a small hole into the base of the skull, electrodes are embedded into your brain, where they transmit electric impulses to certain targeted areas.

Deep brain stimulation- who is it for?

All patients considering DBS must undergo an MRI or CT scan before surgery, in order to reduce the risk of post-op hemorrhaging and to determine which areas of the brain to target.

Currently, neurological clinics offering deep brain stimulation use it to treat people with severe movement disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, essential tremor, dystonia, and Parkinson’s disease.

While the FDA has approved the use of DBS for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), that is still in an experimental stage.

Other illnesses that scientists hope to cure with deep brain stimulation include:

  • Cluster headache
  • Migraine headache
  • Tourette’s
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic back pain
  • Severe depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Addiction

Only people with debilitating neurological impairments who have failed to respond to standard treatment are considered for deep brain stimulation.

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Risk factors of deep brain stimulation

Deep brain stimulation is a form of brain surgery, so all standard risk factors apply.

  • Approximately 2-3% of people who undergo DBS suffer a major brain hemorrhage as a result, causing paralysis, stroke, or permanent speech impairments.
  • Approximately 15% of DBS patients suffer some minor or temporary ailment.
  • Infection may occur, requiring a return to the hospital in order to remove electrodes.
  • Today’s deep brain stimulation procedure is less risky than previous years’, which used to involve damaging certain areas of the brain.

Is DBS safe for treating migraines?

Yes and no.

People who qualify for deep brain stimulation surgery suffer from immense, debilitating chronic headaches that significantly reduce their quality of life and are otherwise incurable.

It can’t be stressed enough that DBS is meant to be used as a last resort, when all other attempts at managing migraine headaches have failed, including all prescription medications for migraines, alternative nutrients for migraines, and migraine management through diet, exercise, and relaxation.

Is it worth the gamble?  That question is up to you and your neurologist.  Three percent might seem like an insignificant risk, but it still implies that out of 100 people, three may incur serious and lasting brain damage.

For more information, see the Cleveland Clinic page on Deep Brain Stimulation.


Please tell us…

Would you consider participating in a study on deep brain stimulation for treating migraines, if asked?

Have you tried supplementing with nutrients for migraines, like magnesium,  butterbur, and riboflavin?

Do you have any questions or suggestions?  Please leave your comments below.

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Read more about migraine symptoms:

Migraine Excitotoxins- What’s so exciting about them?

Brain Drain from Migraines…What’s Causing it?

Killer Migraines Might be Fatal after All- Mortality Rates among Migraine Sufferers


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