Although common, migraines are often debilitating and can interfere with daily activities. New research suggests that a type of interventional radiology treatment typically used to treat adults may also be effective in treating migraines in children.

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New research shows that an innovative treatment for headaches can safely and effectively relieve migraine pain in children.

Headaches are some of the most common afflictions of the central nervous system. Almost half of the world’s adult population report having had a headache at least once in the last year.

In the United States, it is currently estimated that approximately 12 percent of individuals aged 12 and above have recurrent migraines.

Migraines can also have seriously negative effects on children, as it can impact the development of the brain during school years. Severe headaches can interfere with children’s school performance and well-being, and studies show that children aged between 5 and 12 with migraine miss significantly more days of school because of headaches, than children with other headache disorders.

New research – presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 2017 Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington, D.C. – suggests that an interventional radiology treatment method, called sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) blockade, is effective and safe for treating migraines in children and teenagers.

The treatment involves administering anesthetic to a small cluster of nerves that are believed to be linked to migraines. These nerves are located at the back of the nose. During the SPG block, a small, flexible catheter is inserted into each nostril and used to disable the SPG for a short period of time.

The researchers performed 310 such treatments in 200 children aged between 7 and 18 at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Phoenix, AZ, between February and November 2015.

Physicians used lidocaine spray and gel to achieve anesthesia, and the entire procedure lasted approximately 10 minutes.

Before applying the treatment, the scientists recorded the patients’ pain levels on a scale from 1 to 10. The children were then asked to reassess their pain level after the intervention, on the same scale. Overall, the average pain score dropped by more than two points on the 10-point scale, which, as the researchers point out, is statistically very significant.

This short disruption of the SPG resets the headache circuit and breaks the cycle of severe headaches. Researchers say that this minimally invasive therapy works almost instantly and the relief can last for months.

“This treatment, performed in an outpatient setting by an interventional radiologist, can safely relieve a child’s migraine quickly,” says Dr. Robin Kaye, section chief of interventional radiology in the Department of Medical Imaging at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and a co-author of the study. “By reducing the need for medications that come with serious side effects or intravenous therapies that may require hospital stays, children do not have to miss as much school and can get back to being a kid sooner.”

However, the SPG block will only be administered to children who have formally received a diagnosis of severe migraine, and who did not respond to the first line of treatment.

While it is not a cure for migraines, this treatment has the potential to really improve the quality of life for many children. It can be performed easily, without complications, and gives quick pain relief, which is important to parents who want to see their children happy, healthy, and pain-free again. If needed, we can also repeat the treatment if or when the migraine returns.”

Dr. Robin Kaye

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