Occasional severe headaches, usually confined to one side of head, associated with Nausea and Vomiting, blurred vision, and other visual disturbances, intolerance to light, and occasionally numbness and tingling in the arms. In a severe attack, the only thing to do is lie down in a darkened room until the symptoms wear off. Attacks are often heralded by abnormal tiredness, nausea, or flashing, shimmering or distortion of objects towards edge of visual field; once the headache comes on, these symptoms tend to disappear.
The immediate cause of migraine headaches is constriction, then swelling of the arteries which supply the brain, but why the arteries suddenly behave in this way is not known. Stress, Hypoglycaemia, and certain foods are the most frequently cited 'trigger factors' of this miserable complaint, which affects 1 person in 10, and three times as many women as men, and are often worse round period time. Incidence and frequency of attacks tend to tail off in middle age, though they may worsen during the menopause in women.
Taken early enough vasoconstrictors, antihistamines, and anti-emetics can minimise the symptoms of an attack; alternatively, combinations of anti-hypertensives, tranquillisers and anti-depressants can be taken on a permanent basis to prevent attacks. A few hospitals offer biofeedback treatment, in which sufferers are trained to control their blood pressure and body temperature by relaxation. Osteopathy, in particular cranial manipulation, may also offer relief. Homeopathic treatment of migraine is constitutional; however, the remedies listed are recommended for use in emergencies.
Specific remedies to be taken hourly for up to 10 doses, if possible at the first signs of an attack
- Blurring of vision before headache comes on, tight feeling in scalp, headache right-sided but less insistent if person moves around, vomit mostly bile Iris 30c
- Headache worse on right side, feels as if temples are being screwed into each other, trying to concentrate makes pain worse, dizziness Lycopodium 30c
- Throbbing, blinding headache, warmth and moving around make headache worse, head feels overstuffed and congested, attack preceded by numbness and tingling in lips, nose, and tongue Natrum mur. 30c
- Headache worse in evening or during a period aggravated by rich, fatty food, head feels as if it is about to burst, person easily bursts into tears Pulsatilla 30c
- Headache worse in morning, bursting pain which is right- sided and seems to start at back of head, with pain extending into right shoulder, some improvement later in day Sanguinaria 30c
- Pain starts at back of head, then shifts and settles above one eye, aggravated by cold, alleviated by wrapping head up warmly and tightly, person prone to head sweats Silicea 30c
- Sharp, darting, severe pain over left eye, pain seems to pulse with every heartbeat, stooping or moving suddenly makes pain worse Spigelia 30c
- Left-sided headache, as if head is being pierced be a nail Thuja 30c
Self-help: in addition to avoiding stress, tension, and tiredness, and learning some form of relaxation or meditation, try eliminating certain foods from your diet and then reintroducing them, to see what effect they have. Foods known to trigger off migraines are, in order of their attack-producing potential: chocolate (and other forms of concentrated sugar), cheese and dairy products, citrus fruit, alcohol (especially red wine), greasy fried foods, some vegetables (especially onions, broad beans, and Sauerkraut) tea, coffee, cocoa, and cola (all of which contain caffeine), salt, wheat and yeast extracts, meat (especially pork, liver, sausages and cured meats such as bacon and salami), and shellfish. Stay off these, one at a time, for about 4 weeks, then reintroduce them.
Alternatively, consult a dietary therapist; he or she may be able to help you pinpoint the offending food more quickly. Food additives - notably E101, 210-219, 321, and 621 - can also act as migraine triggers, as can smoking, perfumes, and some oral contraceptives. Excessive TV watching is not a good idea either.
Positive measures include taking extra Vitamin B6, C, and E, and also Evening Primrose oil, and also adding fresh root ginger to cooking.
Some sufferers swear by the herb feverfew, but in the opinion of the author it should only be taken on a 5 days out of 7 basis, and then only if constitution treatment is not working; feverfew can cause griping abdominal pain, heavier than normal periods, mouth ulcers, and swelling of the tongue if taken too enthusiastically. If you sense an attack coming on, splash your face with cold water for a few minutes, then lie down somewhere quiet for an hour or so; for some suffers this has the effect of fending off an attack altogether. Some people find that just working through the headache, or not giving in to it, gets rid of it. For more information about research and treatment write to the Migraine Trust.