You may be familiar with the terrible pounding in your head, the searing pain of bright light, the waves of nausea. Migraine sufferers know these debilitating sensations far too well. However, many people today can manage their migraines through a combination of lifestyle and medical treatment.
The first step in creating a migraine management plan is to seek a thorough medical assessment to ensure that the headaches are true migraines. This process involves reviewing the patient’s complete medical history and noting the frequency, severity and nature of the headaches.
Migraines can occur on one or both sides of the head and often involve intolerance of light and sound, as well as stomach upset. Some people experience visual disturbances prior to a migraine’s onset.
While the exact cause of migraines is unknown, scientists have determined that migraine headaches are related to blood flow changes in the brain. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “the nervous system responds to a trigger, such as stress, by causing a spasm of the nerve-rich arteries at the base of the brain. The spasm closes down or constricts several arteries that supply blood to the brain. As these arteries constrict, the flow of blood to the brain is reduced.” This action sets off a chain of biochemical events that can result in a migraine.
In many cases, migraines have specific triggers that, once identified, can be controlled, explains Jim McDaniel, a chiropractic physician with The Wellness Center. Food, hormonal changes, stress, lack of sleep and allergies are among the most common migraine triggers. By tracking diet, sleep and hormonal cycles and noticing patterns that relate to migraine onset, patients may be able to avoid certain triggers and decrease the incidence of migraines. Other potential migraine causes may be embedded in the patient’s history, such as past emotional or physical trauma, he adds.
“In addition to the patient history, there will be several questionnaires to fill out, typically blood testing is done, and occasionally radiographic imaging is required,” McDaniel says. “All these are necessary to give the physician a complete picture of the patient, thus offering the patient the best opportunity for successful treatment. A treatment plan is then developed for the individual patient, and it will typically include lifestyle modification, supplementation and adjustments, including cranial work.”
Determining the optimal mix of treatments can take some time. “The secret is to find the treatment that works for each individual patient,” McDaniel says. “What works for one may have absolutely no effect on the next patient, and success does not come from a ‘magic bullet’ but in finding what works for each person.”
Rajiv Yadava, an osteopathic physician specializing in neuromuscular/skeletal medicine, finds that most of his patients benefit from a combination of traditional and complimentary therapies. “I use many modalities to help the tissues relax, causing changes in the nervous system,” he says. “When the nervous system is irritated for long periods of time, physiological and neurological changes occur. It becomes hypersensitive, so even mild irritation can touch off a major response.”
Yadava’s typical mix of modalities includes musculoskeletal adjustments, osteopathic manipulation, acupuncture and trigger point injections, all aimed at relaxing and calming the nervous system. “About 90 percent of my patients who present with a migraine tell me it’s either completely gone or greatly eased after a single treatment session,” he says. Patients usually have monthly treatments for a period of time while their general condition improves, Yadava says.
A number of prescription medications also are effective in helping to prevent or control migraine pain, and biofeedback and relaxation training may be helpful on an ongoing basis. Whether you seek relief through traditional medical treatment, complimentary therapies or a combination of approaches, help is available.