TODAY   |  October 23, 2013

New procedure could ease pain for migraine sufferers

NBC News chief medial editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Dr. Joel Saper show a new procedure that is the last line of defense for migraine sufferers and discuss how it which should help ease pain.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> but first our special series feeling better from head to toe . treating migraines. one in every four households has a person living in it that suffers from those headaches. we'll take you through a live procedure that could give you relief. but first, here's dr. nancy snyderman .

>> this is the start of a migraine. abnormal impulses of brain cells and blood flow spreading from the back to the front of the brain. triggered by anything from pungent smells, bright lights, alcohol or even hormonal changes. a migraine can last 4 to 72 hours with symptoms including head pain , light sensitivity , nausea and blurred vision . 36 million americans suffer from migraines. three times more women than men have them. those with migraines are more likely to also suffer from depression, anxiety, heart attack and stroke among other serious conditions. it is a pain that 57-year-old sandra garvais knows very well.

>> my first migraine was at age nine. i was in fourth grade.

>> she took medication regularly for her migraines but relief was only temporary.

>> it's a medication that causes a rebounding effect which means that your headache goes away but it returns after, you know, so many hours.

>> we teach you how to inject zblr spear heading the relief efforts, founder of the country's first treatment center in michigan.

>> many have become physically dependent on their narcotics or other painkillers and they have been caught up in the cycle of more drugs, more headache, more headache, more headache, more drugs.

>> reporter: doctors use a combination of medication, physical therapy, nerve stimulation and botox treatments to help with the pain. the end goal, to diminish discomfort and lead to a better quality of life .

>> nancy is here in the studio and joining us is the doctor who is the founder and director of the michigan head pain and neurological institute. doctor, good morning, nice to see you.

>> good morning.

>> let's remember this is a last line of defense against migraines. how delicate a procedure are we going to see this morning?

>> well, you're going to see him inject needles with a special medicine and the needles are placed near certain nerves in the upper part of the cervical spine , the neck.

>> and this is nancy talking. this is all under x-ray so you can see exactly where the needle is going in, correct?

>> yes, that's right.

>> so we have a model here between the second and third cervical vertebrae . is that where the needle is going in to inject the medicine?

>> wes, we're going to go to several different levels. we're trying to isolate the level that produces most of her pain or aggravates most of her pain.

>> you're not targeting the nerve that causes the migraine. you're targeting the nerve that feels the pain?

>> the migraine actually begins in the brain and that circuit descends all the way to the neck and certain neck nerves may participate in aggravating the circuit which escalates the migraine and keeps the process going. we're trying to interrupt that process.

>> so these nerves come out of the cervical spine and then depending on how they branch out, they can really be a trigger point for the migraines.

>> this patient is sedated. will they have any discomfort as a result of the actual procedure?

>> no, she should not. she has been sedated and then we localized -- we have given her local in the area where it occurs.

>> this is not a first line treatment. this is after people have exhausted medicines and other procedures. but how often can a patient get this kind of nerve block ?

>> well, we do a couple in a short amount of time to isolate the contributing nerves. this patient also had a lot of neck pain which is part of the process of the migraine. that's why we're going after the neck to isolate those nerves.

>> should she come out of sedation and feel immediately better?

>> yes. in this particular block she would feel better quite soon.

>> and the medications that are put in range from long acting anesthetics all the way up to alcohol that numb nerves?

>> yes, we're not going to do that at this point. this is just a local anesthetic that's injected and possibly steroid which will sustain the benefit for awhile.

>> the nice thing is for people that aren't reliant on narcotics it really allows them to get off medicines they don't want to be on anymore.

>> doctor, thank you very much to you and your team and to the patient who allowed us to do this. we appreciate it.

>> thank you.

>> that's fantastic.

>> it's really great.

>> that's cool.

>> for so many people. there's so many people that suffer migraines.

>> they do and this works. you have to make sure you go to a good migraine clinic and there are centers of excellence like this one all around the country.

>> thank you. we'll continue our series tomorrow with a look at alternative treatments for chronic