Treating Headaches and Migraines
Doctors say that up to a million people in the UK have "completely preventable" severe headaches caused by taking too many painkillers and NICE* has recommended that acupuncture be used in certain cases. In my herbal clinic, I see a lot of patients who are affected by the debilitating pain of headaches and migraine and who are worried about the long-term use of conventional painkillers on their health. Migraine is one of the most frequent causes of recurrent headache and is said to affect 5% of the population.
This debilitating headache is often accompanied by nausea, visual disturbance and dizziness. Migraines are often precipitated by an aura and many people recognise the start of a migraine with symptoms such as blurring of vision, anxiety, confusion, fatigue and numbness or a tingling sensation on one side of their body.
Considerable evidence points to a vascular cause in migraine headaches, but more important for a sufferer is pin-pointing the underlying mechanisms that lead to the onset of a migraine, which may have many causes.
Women are more susceptible to migraines and, often, there is a familial history to the condition. Headaches just before a period are very common indicating a hormonal link. Other factors that may lead to migraines include dietary allergies and stress. Many people come to see me looking for an alternative approach to treating their headaches, rather than taking a painkiller to relieve their symptoms when they arise. Often, they have tried conventional treatments but because the underlying mechanisms have not been addressed there is still an occurrence of debilitating symptoms.
Feverfew is a well known herbal remedy for relieving migraines and many people find that, over a period of time, this simple remedy can often bring substantial relief, reducing the frequency and intensity of attacks. One of the traditional ways of taking feverfew is to add two fresh leaves to a sandwich each day, but this is not always possible if you dwell in the city because of the pollution from the traffic. It is available as Migraherb, a licensed herbal tablet.
Underlying stress factors need to be addressed and I find a combination of herbs such as verbena, passionflower and wood betony can be helpful in relieving the stress responses that can lead to symptoms such as migraine.
The important thing to remember is that we are all unique, and often need an individual approach to resolving health problems such as headache and migraine. It can be worthwhile trying a course of feverfew tablets, taken daily, over a few months.
However, if your symptoms are severely debilitating or persistent, you should seek a consultation with a qualified medical herbalist who will work out a programme tailored to your own needs.
Headaches and migraine can also be triggered by structural problems, problems related to posture or even the position you sit at when working. I will often refer a patient to our experienced osteopaths and cranio-sacral therapists for a structural assessment. As with many health conditions, the underlying cause is often multifactorial and treatment is often best approached though a number of different avenues.
In our clinic, all the practitioners work as a health care team and we often cross refer patients to get the best possible outcome. Experienced acupuncturists are able to relieve pain and muscle tension whilst at the same time opening energy channels that can give long term benefit to migraine and headache sufferers. In most situations a five week course of acupuncture is needed to make long term changes. I often refer chronic patients for both acupuncture and osteopathy whilst they are taking their herbal medicine.
After years of chronic migraine suffering, this multi disciplinary approach can make genuine improvements to a patient’s quality of life. Within our multi-disciplinary clinic we always try to look for affordable options for our patients and the team will work together to ensure this.
Remember that essential oils such as rosemary, peppermint and lavender can help to clear the head and relieve low-grade headaches and tension. One additional point is that feverfew should not be taken during pregnancy.
If you wish to use herbal treatments during this time you should seek the advice of a qualified practitioner.
*This was taken from guidelines on treating headaches and migraines which have just been issued by NICE* (2009). NICE is the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.