Brain Archives - Michigan Head & Spine Institute Blog



Dr. Natalia Glisky
Natalia V. Glisky, M.D.
Interventional Pain Management

Migraines affect more than 10 percent of the world’s population, and migraine disease is considered to be one of the main causes of disability worldwide.

One study of people with migraine disease in the United States found that over half were unable to engage in day-to-day activities, including work or school, because of migraines.

Women are hit especially hard by migraines; migraine disease is 3 times more common in women than men, affecting around 1 in 5 American women.

Understanding migraines including how they’re different from other headaches and what can trigger them and why the triggers might change may help you manage them better.

Symptoms, Phases Set Migraines Apart

Migraine is produced by chemical activity in the brain, nerves and blood vessels surrounding the skull and muscles of the head and neck.

Migraine is different from other headaches because it comes as a cluster of symptoms, and usually occurs with the same triggers and symptoms every time, though triggers can change over time, especially with hormonal changes.

Classic migraine is also unique in that it typically occurs in four phases.

During prodrome (pre-migraine) phase, you might experience:

  • Sensitivity to light, sound and smells
  • Mood changes
  • Pain and/or stiffness in the neck
  • Yawning
  • Food cravings
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Aura phase, which doesn’t happen for everyone, is usually characterized by visual and sensory changes such as:

  • Seeing flashing lights and/or zigzag lines
  • Blurred vision
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty thinking or writing clearly

Headache phase is characterized by:

  • Intense pain on one or both sides of the head

Postdrome phase is the post headache phase when symptoms generally include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • Feeling unwell

Although not everyone with migraine disease goes through all four phases, the symptoms and phases an individual experiences tend to be the same every time. Recognizing this pattern helps people know they’re having a migraine.

Common Migraine Triggers

While not all migraines are triggered, some people find that certain factors tend to kick off a migraine for them. Common migraine triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Sleep disturbances, including a change in sleeping patterns such as sleeping late on the weekends
  • Hormone changes
  • Foods that contain a compound called tyramine (including fermented foods, certain aged cheeses, red wine, smoked foods and cured meats)
  • Changes in weather/humidity fluctuations
  • Dehydration
  • Altitude changes
  • Strong smells such as perfume
  • Medications

Another surprising (and surprisingly common) migraine trigger? Chewing gum. Up to 50 percent of people with migraine disease also have temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, conditions affecting the jaw joints and surrounding muscles and ligaments that can be aggravated by gum chewing.

It’s a good idea to pay attention to your personal triggers; if you’re able to identify and avoid them when possible, you may be able to lessen the number of migraines you experience.

Why Triggers May Change Over Time

Some people — especially women — may find that their migraine triggers change as they get older, or that they experience fewer or more migraines at certain times (such as during pregnancy or menopause). This is because hormone levels fluctuate throughout a woman’s life, and hormone changes can trigger a migraine.

Other things that might cause triggers to vary over time include nutrient deficiency (such as low vitamin D levels) and thyroid problems. But you shouldn’t assume that these things are triggering your migraines without talking to a healthcare provider.

When to See a Doctor

If you notice a change in the pattern of your headaches — particularly if they become more frequent and you have them more than three times per week — it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about an evaluation.

More concerning are headaches that occur during physical activity such as exercise or bending over, or if a headache is severe enough to wake you from sleep. If you’re awoken by a headache or suddenly develop a headache more painful than any you’ve had before, it’s an emergency and you should seek care immediately.

Other headache symptoms that necessitate emergency treatment:

  • Neck stiffness with fever and/or rash
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Neurological symptoms such as loss of balance, slurred speech or paralysis on one side of your body
  • Nausea and vomiting (if severe and you’ve never had it with a headache before)

In general, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to headaches, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you’re concerned.


If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for a condition of the brain, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Glisky or any of our MHSI experts, visit or call 248-784-3667.



Dr. John Steele
John J. Steele, M.D., Ph.D.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke, and what to do when you spot them, may save someone’s life. The acronym, BEFAST, can help.

Catching Stroke Quickly Increases Chances of Survival

In the last three decades, medicine has made huge strides in stroke management — but the window of treatment is very narrow.

A stroke can get very bad, very quickly, meaning you have a limited amount of time to respond if you hope to have a good outcome.

In most cases, stroke can be treated with either medical or surgical therapy. But stroke remains the fifth leading cause of death and the number one cause of loss of independence, which is why it’s so important that people know the signs and act quickly.

Because of this, experts created the acronym BEFAST to help people remember and recognize the most common stroke symptoms.

  • Balance problems, dizziness, and/or loss of coordination
  • Eye trouble, including blurred vision and difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Facial drooping or numbness on one side of the face
  • Arm weakness or numbness on one side
  • Speech difficulty, including stuttering and/or slurred speech
  • Time to call 911 if a person shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away

Even with an acronym to remind you of stroke symptoms, you might not recognize the signs right away. It may be helpful to focus on the physical signs; if someone is unable to speak, has a facial droop or can’t move one side of their body, or if their hand flops down when you raise it, there’s a good chance that person is having a stroke.

The Importance of Comprehensive Stroke Treatment

Once you’ve identified signs of a stroke using BEFAST, it’s time to get help.

When you call 911, request that the person be taken to a comprehensive stroke center to ensure the most accurate diagnosis and best possible treatment.

The most crucial step when it comes to diagnosing a stroke is getting an image of the brain with a CT or CAT scan to determine the cause and type of stroke. Ideally, imaging will be followed by a more comprehensive evaluation using the stroke scale developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This 42-point evaluation goes far beyond BEFAST, allowing healthcare providers to learn details about a stroke that help them determine how best to treat it.

Managing Expectations About Stroke Treatment and Recovery

How effectively a stroke can be treated, and how well a person recovers, depend largely on how early the stroke is diagnosed; the earlier the stroke is detected, the better the outcome is likely to be. When blood flow to the brain is blocked, which is what happens during a stroke, there’s going to be a certain amount of damage even after normal blood flow is restored.

This means stroke patients who have been successfully treated can still experience effects such as weakness on one side of the body or problems with speech, but often will recover to the point of independence. Recovery from a stroke usually takes between three and six months, but is highly dependent on the extent of the stroke.

Even better than catching a stroke early is not having one at all. Preventive measures such as maintaining a healthy weight and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check can go a long way in keeping your heart healthy and reducing your risk of stroke.


If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for a condition of the brain, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Steele or any of our MHSI experts, visit or call 248-784-3667.



Dr. John Whapham
John Whapham, M.D., MS, FSNIS, FAAN

Surgery has always been an option for certain types of intracranial cerebral aneurysms, but in recent years, minimally invasive procedures have greatly reduced both physical trauma as well as recovery times.

Cerebral aneurysms occur when part of a blood vessel wall weakens, allowing it to bulge, widen and potentially burst or rupture, which can be life-threatening.

Aneurysms can exist for years without detection. Because of this, there are often no symptoms until an aneurysm ruptures. Once that happens, symptoms may develop suddenly and violently, depending on the location of the aneurysm.

Usually, symptoms come on quickly and are unlike anything you might have experienced before. If you don’t often get headaches but suddenly experience an intense migraine, a ruptured brain aneurysm could be the culprit.

Call 911 and seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know is having aneurysm signs and symptoms including:

  • Severe headache
  • worst headache of life
  • Stiffness or swelling in the neck
  • loss of consciousness
  • speech difficulty
  • focal motor or sensory symptoms weakness or numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Vision changes
  • Confusion
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shock (low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, clammy skin, decreased awareness)

Sometimes an unruptured aneurysm is found when performing unrelated diagnostic testing such as MRIs or CAT scans.

Minimally Invasive Aneurysm Surgery Saves Lives

Aneurysm treatment has greatly improved in the last 25 to 30 years. In the past, major surgery, such as open craniotomy, was commonplace. In this procedure, a small metal clip is placed across the base of the aneurysm bulge that seals off blood flow to the ballooned blood vessel.

However, modern advances have made this major procedure less common.

These days, minimally invasive procedures such as coiling and stenting are the norm. Both divert the flow of blood away from the aneurysm making it less likely to rupture and are performed without opening the skull.

  • Coiling, also called endovascular embolization, uses a catheter passed through the groin up into the artery containing the aneurysm where tiny platinum coils are released. The coils induce clotting of the aneurysm and that clotting prevents blood from entering the aneurysm.
  • Stenting is when a catheter is used to place a stent (a soft, flexible mesh tube) into the blood vessel where an aneurysm has formed. The stent prevents blood from entering the aneurysm. In time, new cells grow on the stent, sealing the aneurysm and healing the vessel.

These minimally invasive procedures allow for a much shorter recovery period, and it is possible to return to daily living as early as one day after hospital discharge.

In fact, some patients with an unruptured aneurysm check in at the hospital, undergo a procedure that is finished in a couple of hours, stay overnight for observation and are discharged the next morning with only a small bandage covering the spot in the groin or wrist where the needle access was made.

Quick Treatment Is Key

It’s crucial to contact first responders at the first sign of an intense, sudden headache since that may indicate a ruptured aneurysm.

If you are diagnosed with an unruptured aneurysm, call us right away to make an appointment.

Depending on the aneurysm’s size and location, you may require regular checkups from a physician trained in aneurysm treatment and surgery. A treatment plan, including lowering your blood pressure, quitting smoking and medical intervention, can help you reduce the risk of rupture.


If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for a condition of the brain, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Whapham or any of our MHSI experts, visit or call 248-784-3667.


Every year neurosurgeons advance the procedures performed to treat brain and spine conditions. Just a few short years ago minimally invasive surgery of any type was unheard of. Yet today, an incision of less than 2 inches allows a neurosurgeon to fix or replace a disc in the neck or spine.

Minimally invasive nasal endoscopy is yet another advancement to treat tumors of the brain. This approach allows the neurosurgeon to access the brain to remove a tumor without performing a craniotomy, which makes a “window” in the bone to allow access to the brain.

Dr. Jeffrey T. Jacob
Jeffrey T. Jacob, M.D. Neurosurgeon

Deciding between a craniotomy or using the nasal cavity to reach the brain, depends on what is best for the patient. “The goal is to be able to reach the tumor and remove all of it,” says Jeffrey Jacob, M.D. “Often, we are able to do that going through the nose with an endoscope, with a very small camera device.”

There are many types of brain tumors that can be treated with this approach. Brain tumors that are removed using the nasal endoscopic approach can be benign or malignant, and typically sit at the base of the skull or under the brain. This procedure removes the tumor and the blood supply to the tumor.

To perform a nasal endoscopy, Dr. Jacob partners with Adam Folbe, M.D., a rhinologist and endoscopic skull base surgeon at Michigan Sinus and Skull Base Center. Dr. Folbe goes through the nose and opens the window to the brain. He says, “There is no cutting of skin, muscle or fat resulting in no scars. Using this approach maximizes retrieval of the tumor with lesser disruption to the brain compared to the craniotomy approach.”

Patients who experience this approach have no signs of surgery on the outside of their body, because the nasal cavity is repaired with the patient’s own tissue, without stitches or sutures. During the post-surgical healing, patients are restricted from sneezing, blowing their nose, lifting and bending over for about three weeks.

Like any surgery, there can be side effects, like in Valerie’s case. Because of the location of her tumor, she lost her ability to smell. For Stephen, he experienced added restrictions as he waited for his vision to return to normal once the tumor was removed. Kevin didn’t experience difficulties after his surgery, but he did work hard to regain his strength and balance.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with a brain tumor, consider all of your options and seek a second opinion. Like Valerie, you might find an option you didn’t expect.


Watch Stephen’s brain tumor story below:

Watch how a large pituitary tumor interrupted Kevin’s life:

Watch Valerie’s full story below:


To schedule an appointment with Dr. Jacob or any of the neurosurgeons at MHSI, call 248-784-3667 or visit


Medical illustration of brain tumor


It doesn’t get much more serious than being given the diagnosis that you have a brain tumor. Though brain cancer is rare and may be a life-threatening situation when detected, many forms of tumors can be successfully treated.

A brain tumor is a collection, or mass, of abnormal cells growing in, or next to the brain. But, what are the different types of brain tumors, and what are the symptoms to look out for?

Brain Tumor Symptoms
There are so many different types of brain tumors, and because each is so complex, brain tumors can cause different effects for each person. Physical problems and behavioral changes can occur throughout the body severely impacting one’s life. The symptoms will depend on the individual’s particular tumor, its location, and can result in:

  • Drowsiness
  • Personality changes
  • Confusion
  • Impulsiveness
  • Blurred vision
  • Balance problems
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

Types of Treatable Brain Tumors
Though there are many different types, a brain tumor is classified by where it was originally formed. If it originated in the brain, it’s called a primary tumor and can be either noncancerous (benign), or cancerous (malignant). A tumor that originates in another part of the body and travels to the brain is called a meta tumor, and they are always cancerous.

Metastatic Brain Tumors – Also known as secondary tumors, they originate outside of the brain in another part of the body and then spread to the brain.

Meningiomas – Originating in the meninges, these thin layers of protective tissues surround the brain and spinal cord. Meningiomas usually grow slowly and most are not cancerous.

Pituitary Tumors – Found just under the brain, the pea-sized pituitary gland makes hormones that affect many of the body’s functions. A pituitary tumor can cause it to release too much, or too little, of these hormones which can cause serious problems.

Glioblastoma Multiforme – These are the most challenging forms of brain tumors to treat. MHSI physicians have access to the most current technology to deal with this cancer including image-guided surgical treatments.

Schwannoma – The most common type of benign peripheral nerve tumor in adults and rarely cancerous. When schwannoma grows larger, it can make removal more difficult. This type of nerve tumor can occur in any part of the body, and at any age.


Keith’s Brain Tumor Story
Before Keith, a patient at Michigan Head and Spine Institute, was diagnosed with his brain tumor he was an accomplished musician hoping for a big break.

“I got my first guitar when I was 12. It’s what calms me. It’s where I can focus on one thing and the thousand thoughts going on in my head will go away.”

But, that was all about to change when he started experiencing unexplained health problems and physical ailments.

“The first symptoms I had were the nausea, dizziness and headaches,” he said, “It got to the point where I couldn’t eat. The only thing that was staying down was water.”

Knowing something was wrong with his health, he went to an emergency room hoping it was just an ear infection. After undergoing some tests, his ER doctor came back with unsettling information.

“A brain tumor was not on my list.” – Keith, a patient at MHSI

Diagnosed with a sporadic case of hemangioblastoma, a benign tumor, Keith was seen by Dr. Daniel B. Michael, M.D., Ph.D., Neurosurgeon with Michigan Head and Spine Institute, trusted experts for treatment and diagnosis of tumors, diseases and other conditions of the brain.

“I noticed he was having trouble using his right hand and, in addition to his usual employment, he’s also a guitarist,” Dr. Michael explained, “That resonated with me. I play bass guitar, so I knew how important it is to be able to use both hands.”

After reviewing his CT scan, Dr. Michael confirmed Keith had a large mass at the back part of the head in the region of the cerebellum. This part of the brain also contributes to coordination.

“I just wanted it to stop hurting, to stop feeling sick,” Keith recalled.

While being prepped for surgery he also remembered the last thing he told the anesthesiologist, “I said, ‘I’m a musician.’ When I came back out, I still wanted to be a musician.”

Keith’s surgery was successful. He then underwent a second nonsurgical procedure called Gamma knife treatment to remove the last bit of his tumor.

“When I woke up after the surgery, I knew it was fixed. The pain I was having before was gone,” he said relieved, “I like the way Dr. Michael had a very confident way about himself.”

As for Keith’s guitar playing and music career after his surgery at MHSI:

“I’ve been in a few bands, had a little stardom,” he updated, “I’ve met a lot of people in the industry since the surgery that say they’re going to help me, so we’ll see what happens.”

To learn more about conditions of the brain and brain tumor procedures, please visit our MHSI Patient Education page at: Conditions of the Brain.

Watch Keith’s full story below:


If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for a condition of the brain, or are seeking a second opinion on an existing diagnosis, schedule an appointment online or contact MHSI at 248-784-3667.

To view more information about MHSI’s neurosurgeons, visit: For more information about MHSI’s  neurologists, visit:


Movement disorders refer to conditions which cause abnormal voluntary or involuntary movements. Symptoms are caused by disorganized electrical signals in specific areas of the brain. Those challenged with essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, and other neurological conditions may benefit from deep brain stimulation (DBS), especially when symptoms progress or medications become less effective.

DBS is performed by neurosurgeons who precisely place one or more wires, called electrodes or leads, inside the brain. The lead is connected to a pacemaker-like device called a neurostimulator that is surgically implanted into the patient’s chest. The neurostimulator then conducts continuous pulses of electric current through the leads to interrupt the disorganized brain signals causing tremor or other movement disorder symptoms.

Insertion of the leads and neurostimulator are typically accomplished in two steps. First, the neurosurgeon places the leads either into one or both sides of the brain, and this is often performed while the patient is awake. In a second procedure the neurostimulator is implanted in the chest while the patient is asleep. Programming of the neurostimulator can be performed by the neurosurgeon, neurologist, or primary care physician, to find the optimum settings that are effective for each patient. There are different devices available that can tailor therapy to each individual patient, and the device representative often has an important role to help the patient become familiar with their programmer and programming settings.


For patients with essential tremor, the most common movement disorder, DBS can return a person to normal daily activities like dressing, shaving, eating, and drinking. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as tremor, bradykinesia and rigidity are especially well-treated with DBS, and medication dosages can often be decreased. Dystonia is an uncommon movement disorder, with symptoms of abnormal posturing and twisting movements, which also respond to DBS.

DBS can also be used to treat patients with epilepsy, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or certain pain disorders. These unique disorders are often managed by specialized neurologists and psychiatrists, and a thorough discussion with your specialist is necessary to determine if you are a candidate for this therapy.

At MHSI, a neurosurgeon or functional neurosurgeon will work with a patient’s neurologist or primary care physician prior to and after surgery to ensure that the optimal therapy is achieved.

For more information about DBS, visit our patient education page on the topic, click here. If you or a family member or friend might benefit from DBS, please schedule a consultation by calling 248-784-3667 or visit

MHSI Neurosurgeons Who Perform DBS 

Dr. Fredrick Junn
Dr. Michael Staudt
Dr. Richard Veyna


Downriver Communities Now Have Neurosurgery Expertise

When looking for a neurosurgeon, you want someone you can trust with head, neck and spine conditions. Someone who has expertise with a good reputation. Someone close to home.

MHSI opened a new office, conveniently located on the campus of Beaumont Hospital, Trenton. Staffed by neurosurgeons Ratnesh Mehra, D.O., Pradeep Setty, D.O.  and Jeffrey Jacob, M.D., we offer the caliber of care and treatment you expect, only closer to home.

Neurosurgery is delicate, and you want the best, most experienced surgeons. The team at MHSI – Trenton has a complex set of skills including minimally invasive and robotic surgery, superior knowledge of brain tumors, and leading-edge experience with skull base and spine surgery.

Patients have long traveled to MHSI to be seen by specialists who provide the full spectrum of care for head, neck and spine conditions, because we provide a range of treatment and diagnosis options that are unparalleled in Southeast Michigan. And with the new Trenton office so close to home, receiving our care just got easier.

This is our tenth location and our first Downriver. Opening another office cements our mission to you: Provide the best, most experienced care. Spine, neck and head conditions are complex, and you want the best surgeon. With the team at MHSI working for you, helping you make the best decisions for your health, you know you have the professionals you want on your side.

The new location on Fort Street, on the campus of Beaumont Hospital, Trenton, opens up conveniences for patients as well. Imaging, testing, therapies and more are within arm’s length at the hospital, while the doctors you trust are right there with you.

We are accepting new patients, seeing post-op patients and continuing to provide care for those in the follow-up stage of care. You can call 248-784-3667 for an appointment, or request one online.

Expertise makes a difference, and the difference is MHSI.


Neurosurgeons at Michigan Head and Spine Institute have begun using Optune for the treatment of newly diagnosed and recurrent glioblastoma (GBM). Richard Veyna, M.D., is certified to prescribe this wearable and portable medical device, the first FDA-approved therapy in more than a decade for newly diagnosed GBM.

“Our goal at Michigan Head & Spine Institute is to treat cancer patients with the latest, approved therapies available, so we welcome the opportunity to provide Optune as part of a combination treatment for those fighting GBM,” said Richard Veyna, M.D. “We want our patients to have the best possible quality of life. With Optune as a therapy patients are able to go about their daily activities with minimal disruption to their lives.”

For newly diagnosed patients, Optune is used with the chemotherapy temozolomide (TMZ) after surgery and radiation with TMZ. In a clinical trial, adding Optune to TMZ was proven to delay GBM tumor growth and extend survival in newly diagnosed patients compared with TMZ alone. For recurrent patients, it can be used alone when surgery and radiation treatment options have been exhausted. Optune is approved for the treatment of adult patients (22 years of age or older) with GBM. In a clinical trial, adding Optune to TMZ provided an unprecedented five-year survival advantage in patients with newly diagnosed GBM.

About Glioblastoma Multiforme

Glioblastoma, also called glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, is the most aggressive type of primary brain tumor. While GBM is rare, it is the most common type of primary brain cancer in adults. Approximately 12,500 new cases of GBM or brain tumors that may progress to GBM are diagnosed in the United States each year. (Watch Pamela’s story)

How Optune WorksOptune-Device-500x500

Optune creates low-intensity electric fields—called Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields)—which potentially slow or stop cell division leading to cancer cell death. Because TTFields do not enter the bloodstream like a drug, they did not significantly increase TMZ-related side effects for newly diagnosed patients. In clinical trials the most common device related adverse events were scalp irritation from device use and headache.

For the treatment of recurrent GBM, Optune is indicated following histologically–or radiologically–confirmed recurrence in the supratentorial region of the brain after receiving chemotherapy. The device is intended to be used as a monotherapy, and is intended as an alternative to standard medical therapy for GBM after surgical and radiation options have been exhausted.

Guidelines for Use of Optune

Optune should not be used if the patient has an active implanted medical device, a skull defect (such as, missing bone with no replacement), or bullet fragments. Use of Optune with implanted electronic devices has not been tested and may theoretically lead to malfunctioning of the implanted device.

Use of Optune together with skull defects or bullet fragments has not been tested and may possibly lead to tissue damage or render Optune ineffective. Do not use Optune if you are known to be sensitive to conductive hydrogels. In this case, skin contact with the gel used with Optune may commonly cause increased redness and itching, and rarely may even lead to severe allergic reactions such as shock and respiratory failure.

Warnings and Precautions

Optune should only be used after receiving training from qualified personnel, such as your doctor, a nurse, or other medical personnel who have completed a training course given by Novocure™ (the device manufacturer).

Optune should not be used if the patient is pregnant, or thinks she might be pregnant or are trying to get pregnant. It is not known if Optune is safe or effective in these populations.

The most common (≥10%) adverse events involving Optune, in combination with temozolomide, were low blood platelet count, nausea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue, scalp irritation from device use, headache, convulsions, and depression.

The most common (≥10%) adverse events seen when using Optune alone were scalp irritation from device use and headache.

Scalp irritation from device use, headache, malaise, muscle twitching, fall and skin ulcer is considered an adverse reaction related to Optune when using the device alone.


All servicing procedures must be performed by qualified and trained personnel, like Dr. Veyna.

Do not use any parts that do not come with the Optune Treatment Kit, or that were not sent to you by the device manufacturer or given to you by your doctor.

Do not wet the device or transducer arrays.

If you have an underlying serious skin condition on the scalp, discuss with your doctor whether this may prevent or temporarily interfere with Optune treatment.


Patients arrive at Michigan Head & Spine Institute with many different conditions and injuries.  We hear from our patients that learning about conditions other than what you might be experiencing often helps family members or friends. So this month the MHSI Health Education Series will discuss trigeminal neuralgia.

Robert Johnson, M.D., MHSI neurosurgeon explains, “Pressure or damage to the trigeminal nerve can cause malfunction of the nerve which leads to the pain in the face known as trigeminal neuralgia.” Trigeminal neuralgia usually affects more women than men, and those over 50 years of age. Doctors may use medications, and sometimes surgery to relieve the pain and release the pressure on the nerve.

Some Possible Causes:

  • Contact between a normal blood vessel and an artery/vein
  • Aging
  • Multiple Sclerosis or other movement disorders
  • Brain lesion
  • Stroke or facial trauma
  • Abnormal position of blood vessel related to the nerve

Symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia

There are many symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia which could include one of these patterns:

  • Extremely painful, sharp electric-like spasms that may last a few seconds to a few minutes.
  • Spontaneous attacks of pain while doing regular daily activities such as talking, brushing your teeth, or chewing.
  • Pain that is triggered by sounds, wind or touch.
  • Pain that affects one side of the face, rarely does it affect both sides of the face.
  • Constant aching or burning pain.
  • Pain is usually in the areas that are supplied by the trigeminal nerve: cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, or lips. Pain in the eyes and forehead are less common.
  • Attacks become more frequent and increase in intensity.
  • Pain, for an unknown reason, isn’t usually felt while sleeping. Knowing this may help physicians pinpoint if it could be a migraine or toothache rather than trigeminal neuralgia.
  • In atypical trigeminal neuralgia, a severe migraine in addition to the sharp electric like spasms may be present.

Treatment for Trigeminal Neuralgia

Medication, which may include muscle relaxers, anti-seizure drugs, and antidepressants to target the inflamed nerve, may be prescribed to those diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia. In some cases, surgery may be needed to relieve the pressure that is causing the nerve disruption. These surgical options may include:

  • Microvascular decompression – relocating or removing a blood vessel that is in contact with the trigeminal nerve. This is done with a small incision behind the ear on the side of your pain
  • Tumor Removal
  • Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
  • Glycerol injection – the sterile glycerol damages the trigeminal nerve and blocks pain signals
  • Balloon compression

Robert Johnson, M.D., Jeffrey Jacob, M.D., and Daniel Michael, M.D., are all MHSI neurosurgeons who specialize in treating trigeminal neuralgia.  If you identified these symptoms as those you may be experiencing, please call MHSI for an appointment, 248-784-3667.


The two main blood vessels in the neck that supply blood to the brain are called the carotid arteries. When these arteries narrow, blood flow to the brain is reduced. This is called carotid artery stenosis. The gradual buildup of fatty substances and cholesterol deposits is called plaque.  Plaque occurs as we age, engage in unhealthy lifestyles and don’t manage risk factors, like high cholesterol.

Often, there are often no symptoms until a stroke occurs. So it is important to seek regular physical exams. If your doctor hears an abnormal sound in these arteries a carotid duplex or Doppler ultrasound may be required to examine the blood flow and look for plaque or blood clots.

Medication may be prescribed if less than 50% of the artery is blocked. If more than a 70% blockage is present a carotid endarterectomy or a carotid angioplasty / stenting procedure can improve blood flow to the brain.  Both procedures are usually conducted by a neurosurgeon. In the carotid endarterectomy, an incision is made in the neck and the plaque and diseased portions of the artery are removed to increase blood flow to the brain.

Richard Fessler, M.D., an endovascular neurosurgeon at MHSI explains, “In a carotid angioplasty, a catheter is inserted into the groin, through the aorta (the main blood vessel of your heart) in an attempt to clear the blockage and open up the artery. Sometimes a stent is inserted into the artery to keep the artery open and the blood flowing.”

For all patients, “These are much less invasive procedures than open surgery for all patients, but especially elderly patients,” adds Dr. Fessler.

If you find yourself in an emergency situation, like having a stroke that requires a carotid endarterectomy or angioplasty, or your doctor says you need one of these procedures ask for an MHSI neurosurgeon. To schedule an appointment, call 248-784-3667 or online at