AN ESTIMATED 500,000 Irish people suffer from migraines, and this week is Migraine Action Week. Here we look at a new procedure to tackle the headaches, which are not always responsive to painkillers. Denise Richardson, 55, has had the surgery, and tells DAVID HURST how it went...
MY FIRST migraine came on in my early 20s and felt as though the entire top of my skull was being unscrewed. I rushed to my doctor's surgery, where I was given a painkiller injection.
I didn't have many migraines after that until around my late 30s, when I began getting pain on the left side of my head, which invariably started behind my ear.
The pain would grow in intensity and my left eye would swell up and droop. The attacks were every other month and would leave me nauseous and very tired.
Non-prescription painkillers helped if I took them early enough to prevent the pain developing -- but by 2004, I started getting the headaches every few days.
They'd come on mid-afternoon and last all evening. If I was lucky and the painkill-ers worked, I'd catch them before I went to sleep. If not, they'd still be there in the morning. Increasingly, though, even strong painkillers had no effect. When I was promoted at work, the pressure of learning a new job just exacerbated the problem.
My left eye was permanently puffy and tender, my forehead was very tense and my frown lines were deeper on the left side. The final straw was September 2007, when I had a three-week headache -- with no let-up. Eventually the pain eased, but I was left feeling depressed, with what I felt was no prospect of a cure.
The following month, I read a notice about Dr Thomas Muehlberger's clinic -- the Migraine Surgery Centre near my home in London.
The clinic sent me a questionnaire to determine the trigger points for my migraines. Based on my answers, I was considered a good candidate for the Botox test, which assesses your suitability for the actual procedure. This involved the removal of the corrugator muscle -- the small 'frown' muscle around the eyebrow.
Apparently, many migraine attacks are triggered by an interaction between this muscle and the trigeminal nerve. But since not all migraines are triggered by the interaction at these points, the surgery is not suitable for all sufferers.
The Botox injection effectively paralyses the muscle that can trigger migraines. If it worked, I could have the procedure to remove the muscle completely.
For eight weeks following the injection, I was asked to keep a diary of my headaches. I had only three during this time -- and not very painful ones. I had the procedure two weeks later under general anaesthetic, and was kept in for one night. There was no pain where the muscles had been removed, just a couple of scars which became hidden in the creases of my eyes. Two weeks after the procedure, I was back at work.
Since the operation a year ago, I haven't had a single headache. My forehead is tension and line free, and my quality of life has improved. …