Migraine headache is a painful condition encountered regularly by those of us working in clinical practice. Anecdotally it’s experienced more commonly by women than men, and in particular, by those in their first four decades of life.
Typically, migraines are recurrent, one-sided (but may involve both sides), may be throbbing in character, can last for between 4 and 72 hours and may be aggravated by movement. Sufferers often experience concomitant nausea, vomiting, and a sensitivity to light, noise or smell, and frequently report preceding visual disturbances (blind spots, difficulty focusing, flashing or zigzagging lights). These visual disturbances may occur before the onset of the primary symptoms. Experienced migraine sufferers are often able to predict the onset of an episode by changes in mood, changes in gastrointestinal function, fatigue or myalgia, a day or so before the onset of symptoms. Some sufferers find that symptoms can be relieved by sleep, vomiting, or the consumption of starchy foods.
There’s often a family history of migraine and the disorder may be associated with a serotonin or noradrenalin-mediated central nervous system response to emotional or sensory stimuli or sudden environmental changes, with these events leading to changes in cerebral vascular functions.
The triggers for migraine headache are quite broad in number. These may include missed or inadequate meals, dehydration, food additives such as MSG, bright or flickering lights, stress, strong smells, foods such as cheese, chocolate and citrus fruits, oversleeping or inadequate sleep, muscular spasms, cramping or pain, changes in the weather, or hormonal changes. The avoidance of these triggers can be a useful means of reducing migraine formation.
Medically, the treatment for migraine headaches is largely dependent on the severity of the symptoms, the pain threshold of the sufferer, and the personal preferences of the prescriber. Popular options include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, paracetamol, triptans, ergotamine compounds and narcotic analgesics. Preventative measures here may consist of beta blockers, serotonin antagonists, anti-epileptics, anti-depressants and calcium-channel blockers.
There’s a board range of complementary medicine approaches to migraine, and while some of these have shown promise in clinical trials (5-hydroxytryptophan,, glucosamine, melatonin, magnesium, riboflavin, feverfew, for example), most of these trials suffer from small sample sizes and a lack of repetition.
While the clinical evidence for homeopathy is also slim1,2, anecdotally, it’s been found to be very useful in reducing the frequency and severity of attacks if used appropriately. Following are brief discussions on some of the more commonly used homeopathic options for people experiencing migraines.
“Sick headache” is the term often associated with this medicine. The migraine, which may be associated with the over-consumption of sweet food or drink, usually starts with drowsiness, then visual disturbances in the form of a perception of bright lights or blurred vision. It may also arise after resting from mental strain. Pains are often infraorbital and may be described as sharp and throbbing. There may be concomitant nausea, vomiting of very sour watery material, profuse salivation, reduced appetite, tinnitus or a feeling of the scalp being tight. Attacks often occur every 3-7 days. Symptoms are worse toward evening, from rest, from vigorous motion, coughing or cold air, and better from gentle movement in the open air.
Those suffering from migraines associated with head trauma, eyestrain, grief or stress often respond well to Nat mur. Frequently, the person in question is a young female who is physically and emotionally sensitive. The migraine may be accompanied by a temporarily pale facial complexion, temporary blindness and a pain that may be described as hammering, bursting or pressing, which is usually generalised but may also be right-sided. The migraine may be preceded by paraesthesia of the lips, tongue and nose. Weakness, coldness, hypersensitivity, tinnitus, nausea, vomiting, parasthaesia of the lips and photophobia may form parts of the symptom picture. The sufferer will often mention that the pain increases as the day progresses, peaking at midday, and wanes after the sun has set. Symptoms are worse from consolation (although the sufferer does not like solitude), warmth, noise, moving the head, and is better from sleep, sitting still, perspiration or lying down in a dark room.
Typically, Belladonna headaches occur in the temporal region, frequently on the right side and are normally throbbing in nature. The pain usually arises suddenly, may arise as a result of exposure to cold air, and the sufferer may report a dry mouth, loss of appetite, a lack of thirst, slight paralysis of the tongue, sensory hyperaesthesia, visual disturbances, severe vomiting, a bursting pain in the eyes, and may exhibit a hot, red face,. The extremities may feel cool to the touch. Symptoms are worse in the afternoon or evening, before menses, from touch, sudden movements, jarring, lying down, noise or light, and are improved by pressure and resting semi-erect quietly in the dark.
Sanguinaria may be of benefit to those experiencing right-sided migraines with lightning-like pains that occur every 7 days. The headache may develop in the occiput and settle in the right eye, and temporal venous distension as well as facial flushing, thirst, nausea, salivation, vomiting and eructation may be noted. Symptoms are worse in the morning and during the day, from motion, touch or sweet food or drink, and better from vomiting or eructation, firm pressure about the head, darkness, lying down and sleeping.
Migraines that occur during menstrual periods, optical problems (dimness, diplopia and spots before the eyes) and vertigo, may indicate the need for Cyclamen. There may be vomiting, salty saliva, lassitude, and a lack of thirst during the day. Symptoms are worse during the evening, from open air, and sitting or standing still, and are better from menses, movement and a warm environment.
The person who may benefit from Gelsemium will often report blindness, dim vision or diplopia, or sensitivity to noise, before the headache arises and as it does, it often travels from the left side of the neck to the left eye. There may be a lack of thirst, disturbances to muscular coordination, lassitude, dizzyness, drowsiness, trembling, paralysis of localised muscle groups, ptosis, myalgia of the neck and shoulders, vertigo, or a feeling of heaviness or a band around the head. The sufferer may seem apathetic or in a state of mild stupor. Symptoms are worse from damp weather, excitement, at mid-morning, from exertion or study, and better from sitting, bending forward, motion, compression, open air, lying with the head high and profuse urination.
The migraine pointers to Nux vom include a headache over the left eye, nausea, vomiting, a sour taste in the mouth and a history of over-indulgence. The sufferer may report vertigo, a sensation of a nail being driven into the head, and may appear to be irritable, hypersensitive to noise, light and odours, and doesn’t want to be touched. Symptoms are worse in the sunshine, from bending over, coughing, moving the eyes and from mental exertion, and are better after a nap, at rest and from strong pressure.
The need for Sepia may be indicated by the presence of a throbbing left-sided migraine that first arises during a major reproductive event such as menarche, pregnancy or menopause. Other symptoms that may be noted here include weakness, a feeling of coldness, depression, vertigo, nausea, vomiting and ptosis. Symptoms are worse from being indoors, lying on the affected side, during menses, from afternoon to evening, and are better from exercise, pressure, and from hot applications.
Arsenicum migraines tend to be extremely painful and settle over the left eye. They may be associated delirium, nausea, heartburn, vomiting, anger and irritability, restlessness, exhaustion, cold skin and a notable thirst . Symptoms are worse at night, from cold drinks, from being by the sea, and are better from heat and having the head elevated.
Those suffering from a slowly-developing left-sided migraine with delirium, a fever, irritability, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, confusion and a strong thirst, may get relief from Bryonia. Symptoms are worse from warmth, stooping, from opening the eyes, from motion or jarring, exertion, sitting up, and are better from strong pressure, rest and while lying flat.
Migraines in this case are often left-sided and preceded by blindness (which improves as the pain level increases) or blurred vision. The pain frequently settles in one small spot (usually over the eye) and is accompanied by nausea and vomiting of sour, yellow, watery fluid. Symptoms are worse in the morning, from beer (which may also cause the migraine), hot weather, light, noise and are better from heat and lying down.
Nausea and visual disturbances (dim or clouded vision or the appearance of black spots or sparks) that lead to a throbbing migraine with vertigo, flushing of heat, confusion, irritability, lassitude, and heat and redness of the face and head. often respond well to Glonoine. Symptoms are worse from sunrise to sunset, worse from heat or exposure to the sun, stooping, on assuming an upright position, and are better from uncovering the head.
One of the primary guiding symptoms here is a throbbing left-sided migraine, typically beginning in the occiput and passing over the top of the skull and ending in or over the left eye, preceded by a temporary loss of vision. The sufferer may complain of a hyperaesthesia to touch, and a feeling as if there is a band about the head. Symptoms are worse from taking a false step, from cold air, from pressure, touch or motion, turning or during a storm, and are better from lying down with the head raised.