CONDITIONS A-Z

Headaches and Migraines

Headaches may be defined as any type of pain arising from the tissue in and around the brain. It has been estimated that 98% of the Western world suffer from non-serious headaches on a regular basis. Migraines affect about 10% of the population and although some people will only suffer from an attack once a year, on average sufferers experience an attack once per month, and each attack can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

One of the most common types of headaches is tension headaches caused by muscular tension around the neck. As the pressures of daily life mount, stress hormones are released and these make the muscles tighten, drawing the shoulders upo and around the ears. When the stress diminishes we are often left ‘stuck’ in this position without being aware of it.

Another stress related symptom is grinding the teeth at night. Headaches can result from the biting down action and contraction of the muscle groups over the temporal region of the skull. Some headaches are commonly felt in the morning and may be due to blood sugar levels dropping during the night, leaving the brain starved of primary fuel. A snack just before bed can help prevent this.

Causes of serious headaches:

  • High blood pressure
  • Tumor
  • Head injury
  • Liver disease
  • Anemia

Causes of non-serious headaches

  • Muscular spasm
  • Side effects of medication
  • Grinding teeth
  • Depression
  • Arthritis
  • Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar
  • Spinal problems in the neck
  • Eye strain
  • Food sensitivities
  • Dehydration

Migraines

Migraines tend to be characterized by a throbbing, severe pain, usually on one side of the head as blood vessels in the brain constrict and expand. Migraines may be accompanied by visual disturbances, double vision or blind spots along with nausea and vomiting. Depending on the individual, a migraine attack can last for either a few hours or in an acute case several days.

Types of migraine headaches

Typically there are two types of migraines headaches: 80% begin as headaches that begin slowly and build in intensity until it becomes a throbbing pain, which is made worse by movement or noise. An estimated 20% are preceded by visual aura that can include an area of visual blindness, flashing lights or a generalized ‘weird feeling’. Migraines may also cause temporary weakness on one side of the body. Some suffers have been known to be sensitive to certain smells just before an attack.

The conventional approach to treatment

For simple headaches the use of painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetomol are enough to relieve the pain. When migraines are a problem, special drugs that help to regulate blood flow (such as ergotamine) can help. The new choice is a drug called Sumatriptan which blocks the action of serotonin.

Complementary therapies

  • Nutritional therapy: Many food seem to trigger migraines in particular. Common triggers can include; cheese, red wine, beer, chocolate, oranges, coffee.

  • Osteopathy: Osteopathy treatment aimed at releasing tight spinal joints and muscles can provide relief particularly where tension headaches are the problem.

  • Herbal medicine: Common Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and feverfew (Chrysantheum parthenium) are a traditional remedy for migraines. They slow the expansion of blood vessels, preventing the throbbing head pain. Feverfew must not be taken during pregnancy.

  • Naturopathy: The naturopathic approach will include the identification of food sensitivities and the use of traditional herbal remedies such as valerian and passiflora.

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