More than just a Headache

Monday, February 5th, 2018

A migraine is a severe, recurrent headache, which lasts from 3 hours to 3 days. However, the headache is just one symptom of a very debilitating condition, which affects up to 15% of Irish people. A recent study, published in the British Medical Journal has now also linked migraine to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

The tendency to develop migraine is thought to be genetic, but there are usually specific triggering factors, which depend on the individual. One of the most common triggers is fluctuating hormone levels, and for this reason migraine affects three times more women than men. Other possible triggers include tiredness, stress, muscle tension, bright or flickering lights, exposure to cigarette smoke, dehydration, low blood sugar levels, and certain foods such as cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, products containing gluten or MSG, alcohol (especially red wine), and caffeine. Some people may be very sensitive to certain triggers, while others may only develop a migraine in response to a combination of triggers such as drinking red wine when stressed or during menstruation.

The first signs that a migraine sufferer is about to experience an attack may include excessive tiredness or yawning, food cravings and mood changes. This is known as the prodromal phase, and is thought to coincide with abnormal constriction of blood vessels in the brain. About 20% of migraine sufferers also experience what is known as an “aura” for up to an hour before the onset of the headache. This consists of symptoms such as seeing flashing lights or zig-zag patterns, or experiencing blind spots in the visual field. Some people may also experience slurring of speech, confusion and muscular weakness or loss of co-ordination.

The headache itself is thought to coincide with a compensatory excess dilation of blood vessels in the brain. It is often worsened by movement, and may be accompanied by watery discharge from the nose or eyes, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain or stiffness, weakness or paralysis of one side of the body, and sensitivity to light, noise or smells. Migraine sufferers are generally unable to carry out their normal activities and often have to lie down in a quiet, dark room. The headache may last for just a few hours or for up to 3 days, and is usually followed by a period of fatigue and poor appetite. It may take several days to recover from a migraine attack.

Fortunately there are very effective ways of reducing the frequency and severity of migraines, and reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. In order to prevent migraine attacks it is important to identify and address the underlying causes and triggering factors. Keeping a diary of when migraines occur, together with details of food eaten, daily activities, and menstrual cycle, may help to identify triggering factors, some of which can be avoided.

Acupuncture can help to treat muscular tension and blood congestion, which may trigger migraine attacks. Hormone imbalances can be treated using herbs such as wild yam, and blood vessel constriction can be prevented using antispasmodic herbs such as cramp bark. Anti-inflammatory herbs such as feverfew can also help to dramatically reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks

For further information about about managing migraine naturally and reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, or to make an appointment for a private consultation, telephone 058 53200 or 087 934 5910.

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