Oh my! My migraine!
Migraine headaches are not rare. We all know at least one person who gets them, and maybe that person is you!
Those of us who have actually suffered from migraines belong to an exclusive club-- one where life and the rest of the world stops while we have a headache. Before seeking homeopathic care, I was getting migraines every couple of weeks for several years, losing days of functioning at a time. But there are some less fortunate than I was, who have more days with migraines than without them.
The pain is among the worst and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Sufferers often experience a heightened sensitivity to light and sound and just want to lie down in a dark quiet room until it’s over.
For many, a migraine invariably follows a specific trigger like a strong smell or change in the weather. Some get “auras” just before the headache, which can be changes in vision or a tingling sensation on the face or hands.
Are you sure you get migraines?
More than half of people suffering with migraines are undiagnosed[i], so it might be useful to confirm with your primary care provider that you don’t have a different kind of headache.
There are some types of headaches you should get assessed for immediately, including:
· A severe headache that comes on suddenly and won’t go away
· A headache that disturbs your sleep
· A headache that is worse during physical exertion
· A headache that is markedly different than others you have had before
· A headache that is accompanied by drowsiness, paralysis, or an altered mental state
· A headache that follows any kind of trauma to the head (though you will see below that recurring migraines can start after a head injury)
Recurring headaches that are different from migraines include:
· Tension headaches, usually brought on by stress and can feel like a band around the head, or can be felt on the back of the neck or upper back
· Cluster headaches come on suddenly with excruciating pain, often around one eye
· “Metabolic” headaches, caused by a range of things including a hangover, medication-induced (including “rebound headaches”,which can result from taking over-the-counter painkillers too often), constipation, dehydration, caffeine withdrawal, untreated high blood pressure, hypoglycemia or fasting
· A headache associated with an acute infectious condition such as influenza, an upper respiratory infection or sinusitis (though you will see below that some migraines can be triggered by sinus congestion).
Migraine: not just one type of headache[ii]
So if at this point you believe you are getting migraine headaches and not something else, turns out it’s not that simple. There are many sub-types of migraines; as a homeopath, I might address each differently:
· A “chronic” migraine you might have had since childhood
· Migraine headaches that began after a fall or blow to the head
· A migraine that is triggered by stiff shoulders or a stiff neck
· A migraine that’s caused by needing glasses or having changed your eyewear prescription recently
· A migraine that’s associated with nasal congestion or sinusitis (this is the type I had)
· A migraine that follows a cyclical or hormonal pattern (comes on around the time of a woman’s period, or began at the time of the onset of menstruation, childbirth or menopause)
You may think none of these patterns applies to you, but at least one is likely involved.
Conventional treatment of migraines
Many who have migraines take medications around the time when their headache starts. These can be over-the-counter or one or more of several classes of prescription medications including those intended to stimulate production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, drugs for nausea, and opioids. Some migraine sufferers are prescribed medications intended to prevent the headaches, such as blood pressure drugs, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, as well as botox treatments (these are injected into several places in the head).
For those interested in an integrative approach that complements conventional care, homeopathy can be an effective option.
The skinny on your headaches
In order to help identify a good homeopathic remedy, we embark on an expedition-- something like a crime thriller-- to try and uncover what your migraine headache pattern is:
· Are there any known triggers (food, weather, time of the month, etc.)?
· How often do you get migraines?
· Do you have digestive symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting)?
· Do you have strange sensations before, during or after your headaches (tingling, numbness, dizziness, changes in vision or speech)?
· How long have you had migraines and when did they start?
· Do you currently take over-the-counter or prescription medication for your migraines?
· Is there anything you do that makes your headache feel better, or worse?
This type of sleuthing is important to help identify a good homeopathic approach to resolving your migraines (i.e. stopping the crime). But before reviewing these, let’s look at what you can do yourself.
Steps you can take to help with your migraines
There are some things you can do on your own to help ease the pain, such as deep breathing/breathwork, yoga and Tai chi.
And something else: drink more water (this is often a good first strategy with any kind of headache and there’s no downside to it!).
If your migraines are associated with sinus or nasal congestion, make sure you are getting enough sleep and try using a Neti-pot a couple of times a day.
Several bodywork adjunct therapies might also help: chiropractic, acupuncture, physiotherapy, massage, cranio-sacral therapy and Bowen therapy.
If you have questions or would like to know more about any of these self-care or adjunct suggestions, send me an E-mail.
Integrative care: easing the pain now and preventing future migraines
These are actually two different strategies, and both are necessary in order to provide pain relief when you get headaches, and to lower the likelihood of future migraines.
I might give you a homeopathic remedy to take as soon as a migraine starts, perhaps every few minutes. And I may ask you to check in with me a few times until the pain subsides.
Additionally, one or more homeopathic remedies might be prescribed for you over an extended period to take on a regular basis as a preventive strategy.
The aim is to lessen the intensity of the headaches when they come on as well as their future frequency and duration, until they disappear completely or are very occasional or mild.
Whatever the type of migraine you have, helping your body to heal itself with homeopathy will take time: often several months or longer.
But it becomes well worth it when you see the migraines fading into the past, and you don’t need to take medication anymore (including homeopathic remedies). This is what happened to me—life without migraines is so much better!
[ii] I am indebted to the extensive clinical homework done by Karen Allen CCH for much of the information in this and subsequent sections.