Many of us suffer from migraines – the debilitating headache condition with symptoms that vary in severity from person to person.
The causes of migraines are also extremely diverse and range from allergies to hormonal imbalance, incorrect nutrition and, believe it or not, whether the sun is shining or if it is raining!
History of migraines
It is interesting to note that migraine attacks have been plaguing humanity for centuries. Documents were found in Egypt, dating from 1200 BC, recording headaches with neuralgia.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, noted the visual disturbances that may occur before a migraine attack and also described the relief that may be felt after vomiting.
In 200 AD Aretaeus of Cappadocia diagnosed a one-sided headache associated with vomiting and also described headache free intervals. This is reported to be the first record of an exact diagnosis for the condition.
The word ‘migraine’ stems from the term ‘hemicrania’ (half-head), which was used by Galenus of Pergamon, who was a famous physician in the ancient world.
The weirdest treatments have been prescribed for migraines in the past, from application of a hot iron to the head, or the insertion of a garlic clove into an incision made in the temple and of course, the medieval answer to all ills – blood letting and spells against witchcraft.
Thankfully the situation has improved somewhat and modern doctors usually treat a migraine attack by prescribing medicines that affect the vascular or neurogenic systems in the body, balanced exercise, revision of the diet and an exclusion of factors that may trigger an attack.
Definition and different types of migraines
A migraine is defined as a severe recurring headache, usually affecting only one side of the head, characterized by sharp pain and often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and visual disturbances.
Migraines have been classified by the International Headache Society and there are quite a few different types, which we will discuss briefly.
Firstly, migraines may occur with an aura, which is a sensory disturbance, such as blurred, shimmering vision or tingling in the arms and hands. The aura usually occurs before the migraine and many sufferers recognize this symptom and can then take preventative measures to avoid the attack, as an aura may precede the migraine by 5 minutes to an hour.
Migraines can also occur without an aura, but a sufferer that does experience sensory disturbances will usually experience the same disturbance every time an attack occurs.
Migraines are classified into many different types, according to the symptoms presented and the severity of the pain is also classified by numbers, with a “0” representing the least severe pain and a “3” representing the most severe and debilitating pain.
Types of migraines
- Classic migraine with aura and common migraine without aura
- The pain caused by this migraine seems to have a genetic factor, as available evidence suggests that twins have a 65 % tendency to develop exactly the same symptoms. Other types of migraine are also thought to have a genetic cause.
- Basilar type migraine
- This type of migraine is not common, but the symptoms are caused by a dysfunction in the brainstem. Serious episodes could lead to stroke, coma and eventually death.
- Familial hemiplegic migraine
- A type of migraine that is usually inherited, with symptoms including paralysis of one side of the body.
- Abdominal migraine
- This type of migraine usually occurs in children, and is characterized by episodes of moderate to severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, lasting between 1 hour to 72 hours.
- Acephalgic migraine
- This a variant of a migraine with aura, but is classified as a neurological syndrome.
Signs and symptoms of migraines
Signs and symptoms vary drastically from person to person, but four phases have been identified that do occur:
- Prodrome phase
- This usually occurs several hours or days before an attack and may include the following symptoms: Irritability, depression, euphoria, yawning, fatigue, craving for certain foods, stiff muscles, constipation or diarrhea.
- An observant patient or family member can detect these symptoms and take preventative measures.
- Aura phase
- If this phase does occur, it will occur before an attack, usually about 5 to 20 minutes before the attack and may last up to an hour before the headache or pain begins.
- Pain phase
- The pain usually occurs in one side of the head as a throbbing pain, which may be moderate to severe. The pain is usually reported to swell and subside and may travel from one side of the head to the other during the attack. An attack usually lasts from 4 to 72 hours in adults and 1 to 48 hours in children.
- In some migraines the pain manifests in other parts of the body, but a feeling of nausea usually accompanies the attack and vomiting also may occur.
- Postdrome phase
- After the attack the patient may feel tired, irritable and lethargic. Mood changes and difficulty to think are also reported, while some people feel euphoric and refreshed after an attack. Some light-headedness, minor headache, loss of appetite, light sensitivity and slight dizziness are also reported after an attack.
The cause and treatment of migraines
Migraines were originally thought to be caused by problems with the blood vessels or constriction and expansion of the blood vessels. Currently the following theory is thought to be the most logical reason for migraines.
Cortical spreading depression
In this phenomenon, the activity of the nerves is depressed or reduced over an area of the cortex ( the left and right hemispheres of the brain). This leads to irritation of the nerves in the skull, which includes a nerve called the trigeminal nerve, which relays feeling to and from the face and a large part of the head.
Migraines are one of the most misdiagnosed illnesses to date. Many sufferers are not diagnosed correctly and many people show symptoms that are confused with migraines.
The International Headache Society recommend certain pointers to be used when diagnosing a migraine without aura:
5 or more attacks 4 hours to 3 days in duration 2 or more of the following – a one sided headache, pulsating quality of pain, moderate to severe pain, aggravation by or avoidance of routine physical activity 1 or more accompanying symptom – nausea and/or vomiting, light-sensitivity, sound-sensitivity For migraine with aura, only two attacks are required to justify the diagnosis.
A great deal of specialized knowledge seems to be required to make an accurate diagnosis of migraines.
Many sufferers seem to be able to control or prevent the onset of pain by recognizing the symptoms preceding an attack and by avoiding certain triggers which cause an attack.
Certain known triggers are:
- Allergic reactions
- Bright lights
- Loud noise
- Certain odors or perfumes
- Physical or emotional stress
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Smoking or exposure to smoke
- Skipping meals
- Alcohol or caffeine
- Menstrual cycle fluctuations
- Birth control pills
- Tension headaches
- Certain foods and artificial additives
- Changes in the weather (normally barometric pressure)
Conventional treatment of migraines
Conventional treatment usually includes the exclusion of triggers, treating the symptoms and the prescription of preventative drugs, which are usually very expensive.
Folk remedies and alternative treatments
Alternative treatments range from acupuncture, cold or hot compresses or showers and some people find that a cup of coffee may help!
The “Vasalver maneuver” (closing your nose and mouth and gently blowing air into the nose, to clear the ear ducts) is thought to help with weather-related migraines, as regularly opening your ear ducts helps balance atmospheric pressure outside with the internal pressure in your head. Moving your jaw in a chewing motion is also said to be beneficial for the same reason.
Massage therapy, gentle regular exercise, and physical therapy have also been found to help reduce the occurrence of attacks.
Have your eyes tested and find out if you are using the right type of spectacles, as certain types of spectacles or the incorrect prescription causes headaches – “prism” eye glasses are thought to cause headaches in some people.
Clinical trials have been done on the efficacy of certain herbs, such as butterbur (Petasites hybridus) rhizome extract. When taken at 50 mg or 75 mg per day, a significant percentage of the study group found a reduction in the occurrence of migraines.
The use of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) for migraines is a known folk remedy and certain trials did show an improvement in the condition of sufferers when using this herb.
Supplementing the diet with magnesium citrate is also worth mentioning, as an experiment done on a group of sufferers taking 600 mg of trimagnesium dicitrate orally, per day, reported that the frequency of migraine attacks was reduced by 41.6% to that of the 15.8% of the placebo group.
Certain studies link the use of vitamin B2 with magnesium citrate for this purpose.
We sell a large selection of pure essential oils for personal use in aromatherapy, creams and massage therapy, suggests the use of the following oils for the relief of headaches:
For a headache use the following mixture:
It can be massaged into the base of the skull or around the temples.
For a tension or nervous headache use as above but use:
Nutritional treatment of migraine
Some problems, like migraine, may react positively to vitamin and nutritional therapy and for this reason we suggest some nutrients that may be of benefit for this particular problem:
- Vitamin C
- Pantothenic Acid – Vitamin B5
Migraines have been plaguing humanity for thousands of years and it seems that many of us will be suffering from migraines in the future. There are well documented trials and evidence on record that a correct lifestyle, including the avoidance of certain triggers, may be of great benefit to many sufferers of this disorder. Certain studies also mention the benefits of herbal and vitamin supplementation and many sufferers find comfort and relief through the use of certain essential oils.