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Migraines and Headaches

What are Migraines and Headaches?

Migraines and other kinds of headaches, including tension headaches, sinus headaches, and cluster headaches, are painful, debilitating, and can lower your quality of life to a significant degree. According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches and 28 million of those suffer from migraines. Headaches are one of the top 10 reasons why people visit doctors in the United States.

Eighty-percent of people who suffer migraines have family members with migraines. Migraine attacks can occur as often as several times a month or as rarely as a few times per year. A migraine can last from several hours to up to 3 days. They are often debilitating. Ninety-percent of people with migraines cannot function normally during a migraine.

Other migraine headache symptoms include:

  • Sensitivity to light, noise, and odors
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and upset stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vision changes, including blurred vision or dimmed vision
  • Changes in temperature, either becoming very warm or very cold
  • Paleness or flushing of the face
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

Children with migraines may not have headaches at all. Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or dizziness may be the only symptoms present. These are sometimes called abdominal migraines.

Conventional Treatment

According to the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study (AMPP), 98% of people who get migraines take medications, yet a large majority of people in the study reported that their lives are still significantly affected by the pain and debilitation associated with their migraines.The conventional medical treatment of migraines relies on drug therapy. There are two basic approaches to drug therapy: abortive and preventive.

Abortive Treatment

Abortive treatments are fast acting drugs intended to stop migraines once they start. The most effective abortive drugs are called triptans. They work by acting on serotonin receptors, a neurotransmitter linked to migraine pain. They tend to be most effective when taken early in the course of a migraine attack. Though triptans are the most effective abortive drugs currently available, 25% of all people with migraines and 40% of all migraine attacks do not respond to triptans. Common triptans include:

  • Almotriptan (Axert)
  • Eletriptan (Relpax)
  • Frovatriptan (Frova)
  • Naratriptan (Amerge, Naramig)
  • Rizatriptan (Maxalt)
  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex, Treximet)
  • Zolmitriptan (Zomig)

Some people who do not respond to the triptans may respond to other non-triptan drugs that also act on serotonin receptors as well as receptors for other neurotransmitters. These include:

  • Acetaminophen-isometheptene-dichloralphenazone (Midrin)
  • Dihydroergotamine (D.H.E. 45 Injection, Migranal Nasal Spray)
  • Ergotamine tartrate (Cafergot)

Over-The-Counter Medications

Some people who get infrequent or mild migraines may respond to one of the medications available over-the-counter without prescription. These medications contain non-steroidal ant-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. Prolonged use can lead to stomach ulcers, bleeding along the digestive tract, and rebound headaches. These include:

  • Advil Migraine
  • Excedrin Migraine
  • Motrin Migraine Pain

Side Effects

Side effects vary from medication to medication and person to person. For some, side effects are minimal and the improvement in their migraines easily outweighs any discomfort. For others, side effects can be severe enough to discontinue the medication, despite the discomfort of continued migraines. The most common side effects of migraine medications include fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, insomnia, depression, weight gain and dry mouth.

Avoiding Triggers

Most authorities agree that avoiding migraine triggers, where possible, is an important aspect of treatment. Avoiding those factors that you have found to trigger your migraines can reduce both the frequency and the severity of migraine attacks.

Prognosis

There is no conventional medical cure for migraines, although the avoidance of triggers and the use of drug therapies can manage migraine symptoms and improve quality of life in many people with migraines.

Homeopathic Treatment

Homeopathy is a safe, gentle, and effective natural treatment for people suffering from migraines. It is a great alternative to Imitrex, NSAIDs, propanolol, Topamax, Depakote, and other drug therapies and has no known side effects.

Like conventional drug therapies, homeopathy can be used to effectively abort migraines once they start and also to prevent future attacks. Unlike conventional treatment, homeopathy does not simply manage the symptoms. It can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines permanently and, in many cases, eliminate migraines altogether. It does this by stimulating a self-healing process that restores your body’s innate ability to maintain healthy function. This is especially important for people who have not responded to conventional treatment, suffer too many side effects to continue taking their medications, have the hope of some day not needing to take their migraine medications, or who prefer to permanently eliminate their migraines rather than manage them with drugs.

Several studies have shown homeopathy to be beneficial in the treatment of migraines, the most recent and well designed of these studies followed patients for two years and found that migraine patients treated homeopathically experienced large reductions in the frequency and severity of their migraines and in the use of their migraine medications.(1).

Homeopathy is a holistic therapy that treats the whole person rather than targeting any one condition or set of symptoms. As a result, it is likely to benefit other aspects of your health as it improves your migraines. It may take a year or even longer to eliminate long-standing migraines entirely, but improvement in the frequency and severity of the migraines typically occurs rather quickly, usually within the first few weeks to months of beginning treatment.

The majority of people with migraines who seek out homeopathic treatment are already taking one or more conventional migraine medications. This is not an issue. Homeopathic remedies do not interfere with drugs and can be started while you are still taking your migraine medications.

As your migraines improve, you will naturally use the abortive medications less or even not at all. Once you have been migraine-free for a period of several months, any preventive medications you are taking can be tapered slowly under a doctor’s supervision. If you remain migraine-free, these medications can be eliminated as well. The doctors at Arizona Natural Health Center have considerable experience treating migraines homeopathically and will walk you through this process.

Other Treatments

There are a number of natural, non-drug therapies other than homeopathy that can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. Though they are generally safe, these therapies can affect the treatments you are already doing, so it is best to discuss them with your doctor or homeopath before starting anything new.

  • Biofeedback is a technique that trains you to exert control over normally involuntary body processes, like heart rate and blood pressure, and has been shown to be effective in preventing migraines.
  • The herbs Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) and Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) have been shown to reduce the frequency of migraines, though the evidence for Butterbur is stronger.
  • Vitamin B2, or Riboflavin, in high doses can decrease the frequency and intensity of migraines.
  • Coenzyme Q10 is a nutrient involved in energy production within your cells. There is some evidence that it may reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.

Case Study: Migraines

Ella was 59 years old when she first came to see me. She ran a small daycare center out of her home and had utterly debilitating headaches. She had been to the Emergency Room on two different occasions due to the severity of her pain and, one of those times, she was admitted for a few days to do some testing.

She was having headaches nearly every day. She did her best to battle through them. Through sheer force of will and a sense of duty to the children, she managed to get through most days, but on her worst days she could hardly function.

Start with gentle stretching and breathing to awaken the physical body’s natural energy, helping you feel more alert and vital. Work up to longer intervals slowly and give your muscles time to recover between sessions.

Following the second hospital visit she saw a neurologist who prescribed nortriptyline (Pamelor), indomethacin (Indocin), and diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam, Cambria). She did not like taking the drugs, but was desperate to stop the pain. She took the nortryptiline every day and saved the other two medications for only the worst of her headaches.

The medications helped her some, but as the headaches grew worse they helped little, if at all. It took all her strength to care for the children during the day and, by the end of the day, she was exhausted from fighting the pain. She then had to face the night when the pain could make sleep nearly impossible at times. She admitted hesitantly that, at night, alone and in terrible pain, she sometimes hoped to die just to end the suffering.

Her headaches would begin as a pressing pain in her left eye, as if her eye was going to pop out of her skull. As the pain increased it felt like a saw was cutting a line from above her left eye through to the back of her head. The pain would grow in intensity until she felt as if someone was grinding a sharp, multi-pronged instrument into her left temple and eye and the area felt very hot. As the pain increased even further, she felt pain in the back of her head on the right side. It felt as if her brain was shaking like Jello.

Any movement, even blinking her eyes, increased her pain and with every step she felt like she was being hit by a hammer. Her left eye watered profusely. The only thing that provided any relief was holding an ice-cold washcloth against her left temple, but the relief was fleeting and the pain quickly returned when she removed the washcloth. It felt like her head would burst.

Based on her symptoms, Ella was prescribed the homeopathic remedy Spigelia, which she was to take 3 times per day in the 30c potency. When I next spoke to her two weeks later, she had good news to report. Since starting the remedy, her headaches had steadily decreased in intensity and she was feeling wonderful. She was able to sleep at night and her outlook was once again bright. Over the next few months we used a couple of other homeopathic remedies to address new issues as they arose. She has now been almost headache-free for nearly a year.

Self Care

There are a number of things you can do right now to begin on the road to recovery from migraines or other headaches.

  • Be sure to get adequate sleep: Loss of sleep can trigger migraines and make a migraine that does occur more severe. If you have insomnia or other difficulties with sleep, these must be addressed as part of your migraine treatment.
  • Stress management: Emotional stress is one of the most common triggers of migraines and other headaches. Though there are likely many stressors you cannot avoid, you can change the way stress affects you by practicing any of a number of stress management techniques. These include meditation, visualization and guided imagery, deep breathing techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation. Learn one of these techniques. There are many books, DVDs, and audio CDs available on these topics. You may be able to find a teacher or class in your local area. These techniques can be very powerful tools for helping you regain your health.
  • Keep a headache diary: A headache diary can help you document any patterns to your headaches. This can help you to identify triggers so that you can better avoid them and can provide your doctor with valuable information for treatment. Record the dates, times, and symptoms of your headaches, as well as what you ate and things you were exposed to preceding each headache.
  • Eliminate any known triggers: Some people are able to identify certain foods or chemicals that trigger their headaches. The lists of potential triggers can be exhaustively long making it unrealistic to avoid all possible triggers. This is not helpful anyway. No one person will be sensitive to all the known triggers and some people will be triggered by things that are not generally recognized to be migraine triggers. It is more important to identify your personal triggers and to avoid them wherever possible.
  • Exercise regularly: Aerobic exercise appears to reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of migraines in people who experience migraines without aura.

References:

1. Witt CM, Ludtke R, Willich SN. Homeopathic treatment of patients with migraine: A prospective observational study with a 2-year follow-up period. The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2010: 347-355.