Migraine Headache Natural Remedies
Everyone experiences headaches once in a while, but some types of headache are so painful that they can disrupt one’s work and daily activities. Such are migraine headaches, which affect about 28 million Americans, most of whom are women. Migraines occur in about 25% of people sometime in their lives, with many experiencing them only once a month, while others having attacks more than four times a month.
What Causes Migraines?
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but scientists believe that changes in the brain and genetic factors are involved. People may inherit their tendency to develop migraines in response to certain triggers, such as stress, fatigue, bright light, weather changes, and more. A migraine attack occurs when hyperactive nerve cells in the brain’s migraine “pain center” send impulses to the blood vessels. This causes them to narrow or constrict, which is followed by their expansion (dilation). These pulsations are accompanied by the release of certain chemicals like serotonin, prostaglandins, and other inflammatory substances that make the pulsations painful.
Other factors that can trigger migraine attacks include hormonal fluctuations associated with the menstrual cycle, some oral contraceptives, certain foods, wine, noise, oversleeping, and certain smells.
Symptoms of Migraine
Most people experience tension headaches, which are not disabling, or severe enough to disrupt work and normal activities. Compared to these, people who experience migraine headaches suffer from pulsating headaches that are severe and disabling. Symptoms include:
- Mostly unilateral (one-sided) headache
- Nausea, vomiting
- Increased sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Increased sensitivity to noise (phonophobia)
- Increased sensitivity to smells (osmophobia)
- Symptoms worsened by physical activity such as walking
- Some experience visual disturbances (aura) before the headache begins
- Rarely, weakness on one side of the body, eye pain and speech disturbances
Symptoms may last for at least four hours, and may persist for about three days. Although the symptoms are very disturbing to the affected individual, no physical signs are seen upon clinical examination. There are no specific laboratory examinations needed, except to find out other causes or conditions that may be related to the symptoms. Doctors usually diagnose migraine from the symptoms, after eliminating other possible causes.
Treatment for Migraines
The treatment for acute migraine headaches often include over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen, and prescription drugs such as triptans (almotriptan, sumatriptan, eletriptan, rizatriptan, zolmitriptan, naratriptan, and frovatriptan). In addition, people who experience frequent migraine attacks may be advised to take medications to prevent the onset of headaches. These drugs may include OTC medicines such as naproxen and diclofenac, and prescription drugs that are classified as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers. New treatments also include Botox (botulinum toxin A) injections to prevent chronic headaches.
In addition to medical treatment, many health providers also recommend natural treatments for chronic migraine sufferers.
Natural Remedies for Migraine
Non-drug treatments for migraine headaches include:
- Acupuncture, a form of complementary and alternative treatment that has been used for centuries to relieve various types of pain, including migraine. This method involves the insertion of very fine needles at certain points of the body.
- Biofeedback, a relaxation technique, which helps you control your physical state, thus allowing you to experience less pain
- Massage therapy, which helps the mind and body to relax
- Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation to reduce stress and prevent the onset of headaches
- Regular cardio exercises, which have been found to be as effective as medicines and relaxation techniques in reducing the frequency headaches
- Chiropractic care, or spinal manipulation, which has been found to be effective in preventing headaches
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is effective in modifying patterns of thought and action, thus helping one control the frequency of headaches
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses a device to transmit painless magnetic stimuli to the brain, resulting in shortened duration and decreased intensity of migraines
- Application of pressure on the head, face and neck by pressing, rubbing and massaging, helps ease pain.
- Getting enough sleep helps you relax and reduce stress that can trigger headaches.
- Aromatherapy is another form of alternative treatment that has been shown to promote relaxation, and essential oils with ginger, lavender and peppermint scents have been used to treat headaches.
- Avoid foods that trigger migraines. These include caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, aspartame, canned foods, aged cheeses, processed meats, cultured dairy, and foods containing MSG. Keeping a food diary can help identify what foods trigger a migraine attack. Try to eliminate these foods to see if changes in your diet improve your migraines.
- Health supplements such as vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and coenzyme Q-10 may help reduce migraines. Consult your doctor before taking these, especially if you are taking other medications that may interact with these.
- Herbal remedies to treat headaches have been used for centuries, such as feverfew, which may help reduce pain, nausea, and light sensitivity. Some studies suggest that butterbur extract is effective in preventing migraines.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. Migraines and Headaches. http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/default.htm
WebMD. Non-Drug Migraine Treatments. http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/ss/slideshow-nondrug-migraine-treatments
MedicineNet. Migraine. http://www.medicinenet.com/migraine/article.htm
WebMD. Non-Traditional Headache Treatments. http://www.webmd.com/balance/nontraditional-headache-treatments?page=2