Headache / Migraine
Migraine headaches are an extremely common problem in both children and adults. In a U.S. National Health Survey in 2009, 21% of all women and 10% of all men reported having at least one migraine or severe headache in the past 3 months.
Common symptoms include throbbing or pulsating pain, sensitivity to light or sound, nausea and vomiting, one sided headache and changes in the vision. Many migraine headaches are triggered by internal or external factors including the menstrual cycle, stress, fatigue, and certain foods such as alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, certain cheeses and peanuts.
Typical migraine headaches occur on one side of the head, but there are many variations. Some people experience an “aura” or symptoms that precede the headache. Auras can be visual changes, hearing changes, mood symptoms, and even numbness or weakness in the body. Some rare types of migraines have mainly nerve dysfunction with visual loss, hearing changes, balance problems, or weakness of an extremity with little or no headache at all.
The cause for migraines appears to be a spasmodic contraction of the arteries around the brain followed by an opening up of these same arteries. Many allopathic medicines target this spasmodic phase at the onset of the headache, while others simply dull the pain response or help the patient to relax.
Homeopathic approaches to migraines, or any frequent headache, involve a detailed evaluation to understand a variety of factors that tend to make the headaches better or worse. These might be emotional, mental, or physical. For example, some women have headaches before the menstrual period, while others have their headache only after the menses begins. Some people have their headaches primarily at night, while others are affected mostly in the afternoon. Some people have sensitivity to cold that brings the headache, while others have sensitivity to heat. Homeopathic doctors take specific histories of the entire person to understand an individual’s unique type of headache pattern.
Several research studies have been conducted to look at the homeopathic effects in treating patients with migraine. In 1991, a study of 60 patients using a double blind, placebo-controlled trial to test the effect of a homeopathic remedy for migraine patients found a significant improvement in migraine symptoms in the homeopathic treatment group.
A second study, conducted in 2001, was not randomized, but also looked at homeopathic treatment of patients with headache over a 1 year period found positive effects for homeopathic treatment.
Another study from 1997, looked at 60 patients treated over 4 months showed some slight benefit with homeopathic treatment; however the amount of improvement compared to placebo treatment was not significant.
In that study 19% of the homeopathic patients improved compared to 16% of those taking placebo. In another trial of 68 patients conducted in 2000, the researchers followed the patients for 4 months. Those patients treated with homeopathic remedies had statistically reduced frequency of headaches during the trial period.
The body of evidence is not overwhelming, but points to some effectiveness of homeopathic treatment for migraine sufferers. It is important to remember that individual variation in migraine picture is very high for this condition and subsequently the difficulty in finding the correct treatment for the individual can be correspondingly difficult. On the positive side, homeopathic medications have very few if any side effects, compared to the very frequent adverse effects with conventional medicines (up to and including death of some patients). Migraine sufferers should certainly consider a homeopathic approach given the chronic and disabling nature of the disorder. A positive response to treatment could lessen or even remove the need to consider therapies that could be potentially harmful.
Todd A. Hoover, MD, DHt