Migraines are a specific form of headaches with their own symptoms and characteristics. The father of modern medicine, the Greek Hippocrates, was the first to identify this neurological disorder in 400 BC. In those early days, the onset of migraine was believed to be caused by demons.
Over two thousand years later, modern science is still unclear about the causes of this dysfunction, although dilation of the blood vessels in the brain is present in most cases. Research has shown that women are more commonly afflicted, although men and even young children can suffer as well.
Migraine is a common disorder affecting, in the United States alone, over 28 million members of its community.
Many patients report getting early warning symptoms up to 24 hours before the attacks occur. These can be visual disturbances and/ or extreme sensitivity to light and noises. Other warning symptoms can be sudden fatigue, anxiety, nausea and vomiting, being depressed or irritable, and muscle aches and pain. All these signs are related to a disruption in the hypothalamus gland in the brain.
When the migraine finally begins, the onset of pain can be debilitating. Many sufferers find it difficult to work or concentrate for any length of time. They can be very sensitive to bright lights, in many cases only getting relief when resting in a very dark room. In the most extreme cases, there can be dizziness, loss of balance and slurred speech followed by severe pain at the back of the neck, and fainting.
Migraine attacks can cause severe disruptions, not only in the person’s quality of life, but for other family members as well.
It is estimated that approximately a quarter of migraine sufferers experience visual disturbances called auras. These can include seeing flashing or zigzagging lines of light dancing in the field of vision.
Many artists have attempted to incorporate these experiences into their work, including the Dutch painter Van Gogh, and the famous children’s author Lewis Carol in his novel Alice in Wonderland .
There is often a genetic inheritance as many sufferers share their afflictions with other family members.
With the hypothalamus endocrine gland in the brain being involved, the migraine attacks can be triggered by hormonal changes in the body. This would explain why the incidence of attacks is more frequent in women during their fertile years, with lower incidence before puberty and after the onset of menopause. Other common causes are certain types of foods like cheese, chocolate, MSG in Asian foods, and alcoholic beverages like red wine. Sometimes seasonal allergies, environmental pollution, changes in air pressure and emotional factors like stress can be responsible.
Since the 1930s, the Western treatment approach has been aimed at reducing the enlargement of these blood vessels in the brain with medications. Of course, there are still many folk remedies relied on worldwide, ranging from pressing nails against the head to relieve the pain, to drinking peppermint and orange tea, or pressing ice cubes and poultices against the skull.
Incidentally, drinking peppermint tea, which is beneficial to the liver, is often reported to be helpful during migraine attacks.
In Oriental medicine there is often a connection between migraines and the liver organ, and its meridian, which travels from the inner side of the foot to the top of the head, and connects with the eyes. Incidentally, drinking peppermint tea, which is beneficial to the liver, is often reported to be helpful during migraine attacks.
In my clinical experience, acupuncture can be a very effective form of treatment. The acupuncture points on the feet are stimulated first to direct the energy away from the head before local points close to the head are included.
Like the artists previously mentioned, it can very be useful for anyone suffering from this disorder to describe or illustrate their experience in a journal. This can help identify a pattern of dysfunction, and later pinpoint what is triggering the attacks, and when they are most likely to occur.It also makes it easier to design preventative strategies.
Practising exercises like Qi Gong, swimming, yoga or Pilates on a regular basis can help relieve the built up muscular tension in the upper body. Keeping to a regular exercise program can also help reducing stress.
At the first signs of an oncoming attack, many sufferers find it useful to drink a lot of fluid, have a hot shower, and place a hot towel or an ice pack on the back of their head.
Gently rubbing the feet first, and pressing around the different toes, before massaging the occipital region at the back of the head can often quickly bring quick relief.
I would recommend using these strategies first before taking strong chemical painkillers, which will, if taken over a long period, make your life a lot more difficult. And getting a regular medical check up is always a good idea.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com