Migraine headaches are unlike tension or sinus headaches. During a migraine, the blood vessels in a portion of the brain reflexively open wide, possibly as a result of inflammatory changes, nerve impulses, neurotransmitter or nutritional imbalances or other causes. Patients often experience unusual neurological symptoms just prior to the headache pain. Visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, ear ringing, dizziness, tingling, light sensitivity, unusual tastes or smells and other phenomena have been reported. Patients with migraines may feel “sick” rather than just having head pain.
A migraine is not synonymous with a severe headache. Migraines are specifically related to physiological alterations of blood flow in the brain. The actual head pain can be severe, mild or sometimes absent. Some people will even have the initial neurological symptoms, called a prodrome, and never experience headache.
A thorough medical evaluation is important for anyone having frequent or severe headaches, particularly if the headache is unusual, sudden or severe or the pain is worse than ever before.
Once a patient has been adequately evaluated to rule out other possible problems and the diagnosis of migraine is established, the hunt is on to find a way to prevent or control the headaches. Many patients receive one or more of several prescription medications that can be very effective at accomplishing this. Others find the medications ineffective, are unable to tolerate them or wish to avoid taking prescription drugs indefinitely. Migraine patients have tried all sorts of possible remedies in their search for relief.
A few years ago I made an effort to learn about as many remedies for migraine that I could find. Not surprisingly, I found plenty. I encountered a wide array of procedures, medications, herbs, activities and other approaches that had varying degrees of success for migraine.
There are many reports of people successfully using remedies that would not stand up to the rigorous standards of scientific testing. Being a chiropractor and acupuncturist, I have treated migraine patients successfully by improving the function of the spinal joints and muscles, using acupuncture points to relieve stress and sometimes with other methods such as rehab exercises or nutritional therapy. A single approach does not work for everyone. The treatments I provide may not be “proven” scientifically, yet I know first hand how beneficial they can be. It’s a bit like the story of the scientists that calculated that a bumblebee’s wings were too small to ever achieve flight, but no one ever told the bumblebee. Some things work whether they can be explained scientifically or not.
Success stories originate from trying many different approaches. Some migraine sufferers have found relief from exercise. For others, physical activity only makes the headaches worse. Certain foods have been problematic for some patients and have no effect on others. Herbal remedies have been successful for some patients, useless for others. Migraines can be set off by so many factors that avoiding the triggers is next to impossible for some.
Here are a few of the things reported by some migraine patients to have been helpful: listening to music, sitting in silence, exercise, rest, dark room, sunshine, abstaining from red wine, eating, avoiding certain foods, drinking herbal teas, chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy, massage, tai chi, medications, yoga, sexual activity, pregnancy, vision correction, applying pressure to the neck, eyes or temples, stretching, hot showers, cold showers, cold compresses, heating pads, therapy or counseling, crying, yelling, singing, praying, chanting, neck rubs, back massage, hair brushing, reflexology, swimming, walking, reading and others.
Notice how many cures seem to be just the opposite of other approaches.
In spite of all of the reports of positive responses, some people have seemingly tried everything and found no relief. This is due to the fact that migraines can be caused by so many diverse factors.
Unfortunately for people who suffer from migraines, there is no certain path to finding resolution. It may help to realize that many people have eventually found answers from surprising sources, and it may pay off to keep trying.
Next week I will tell you more about how to determine what causes headaches and some suggestions that might help bring relief!
Dr. Mark Kestner