If you suffer from headaches, you’re not alone. Headaches are considered the most common form of pain by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. And consider this: The estimated wait time for new patients at the UBC Hospital Headache Clinic in Vancouver is four years!
Headaches come in all shapes and sizes. There are tension headaches from stress that tend to be dull, achy and chronic in nature. There are cluster headaches that are severe, one-sided and occur in a cluster of episodes. You could have a sinus headache, which is felt in the forehead and face and is the result of a sinus infection. And there are headaches from fluctuating hormones, dental-related problems, caffeine withdrawal and those that are the side-effect of medication or from withdrawal from medication.
And there is the mother of all headaches—the migraine. What’s ironic is that migraines are not actually considered to be headaches, but are a neurological event, of which the headache is just one symptom. To be clear, the headache that accompanies a migraine event is very real, and the pain associated with a migraine is severe. But migraines are much more than just a headache.
Symptoms Of A Migraine
A migraine event tends to move through stages, in which a day or two before the headache, you may feel signs that a headache is coming. You may have a stiff neck, digestive changes, repeated yawning or a shift in your mood. A few hours before the onset of the headache, about a third of migraine sufferers experience something called an aura. This can manifest as vision changes, flashes of light, blind spots, trouble speaking, numbness in an extremity or twitching.
The onset of a migraine headache is incredibly painful and tends to affect only one side of your head. The pain can be throbbing and so severe that sufferers are unable to function and need to lie down. In fact, a common telltale sign of a migraine is that activity makes the headache worse. A migraine headache is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, feeling hot or cold, and hypersensitivity to light, noise, smells or being touched. Once the headache has cleared, sufferers describe after-effects, such as feeling worn out, hungover, disoriented or depleted.
Below we answer some common questions about migraines and share with you how the health professionals at BodaHealth can help you find relief if you suffer from migraines.
Q: Which doctor is best for migraines?
A: If your headaches and related symptoms are beginning to interfere with your life, you should first check in with your primary care doctor. They can rule out other conditions and prescribe medications or treatments. Depending on their experience in treating migraines and the complexity of your headaches, they may refer you to a neurologist for further treatment. If you’re referred to a neurologist, look for one who has a subspecialty in treating migraines. Depending on your history and symptoms, you may also be referred to other specialists, such as an ear, nose and throat specialist or a dentist. In addition, many neurologists refer their migraine patients for alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy and naturopaths for nutritional supplementation.
Q: What is the number one treatment for migraines?
A: The answer to this is complicated! That’s because the underlying cause of migraines is multifactorial—which means that there are countless factors that can cause or trigger migraine episodes. That also means that there’s no one single best treatment, but rather a combination of many treatments may be the best way to address migraines. In fact, the most effective way to manage your migraines often involves a combination of medications, lifestyle changes and natural treatments.
Medications may be prescribed to prevent migraines or to stop one in progress. Lifestyle factors that may be addressed include sleep, physical activity, staying hydrated, managing stress levels and diet. And the practitioners at BodaHealth are well-trained and experienced in providing natural treatments to patients who are struggling with migraines. We are able to offer the following:
- Acupuncture, as a way to treat the underlying cause, identify triggers and relieve your pain. The philosophy behind acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine is to understand the person as a whole, and uncover seemingly unrelated issues that may actually be contributing to your migraines. The research evidence is clear that acupuncture decreases the frequency of headaches in patients with migraines; an effect on par with preventative medications. In addition, the effect from acupuncture can last up to six months.
- Chinese herbs may also be prescribed to migraine patients at BodaHealth. Herbs are combined into formulas that are specific to each patient’s needs and health history. Herbal formulas are often used in conjunction with acupuncture to support and augment the treatments.
- At BodaHealth, our naturopathic physicians embrace the medicine of both Western biomedicine and natural care. They treat through dietary modifications, vitamin or herbal supplementation, and lifestyle modifications. They are also able to order lab tests and prescribe medications when needed.
- We offer cold laser therapy for a variety of conditions, including migraines. Cold laser therapy uses the light emitted from a low intensity laser to penetrate deeply into your tissues. This triggers biochemical changes at the cellular level that helps reduce pain, reduce inflammation and promote tissue repair. In 2018 researchers found that cold laser therapy treatments for migraine reduced the number of days with symptoms, reduced the intensity of pain and decreased the medications that study subjects had to take.
- At BodaHealth our massage therapists frequently work with migraine patients. Massage is helpful in relaxing tight muscles in the head, neck and shoulders that may contribute to or trigger migraines. In addition, massage therapy promotes circulation in those areas and helps to reduce stress.
Q: What is the latest treatment for migraines?
CGRP antibody therapy is one of the newest class of drugs for people who experience chronic migraines. It’s a preventative therapy and works by blocking a substance called calcitonin gene–related peptide, or CGRP. The first of these medications was approved for use in 2018, and has been found to have fewer side-effects and drug interactions than many existing migraine medications.
The use of Botox is also a fairly new treatment for migraines. This interesting use of Botox was uncovered because people who were using Botox as a cosmetic treatment for wrinkles reported that they had fewer migraines. This led scientists to explore Botox as a migraine treatment. Studies on the use of Botox for migraine relief found that Botox reduced subjects’ number of headache days each month dramatically—as much as a 70% reduction over time. They believe that Botox blocks certain neurotransmitters that transport pain signals from your brain.
Cold laser therapy is also considered to be a new treatment for migraines. Researchers conducting a study comparing the effectiveness of Botox to cold laser treatments in migraine patients found that both treatments decreased migraine days, reduced the use of medications for a migraine in progress and decreased pain intensity when a migraine occurred. Quality of sleep was also better in the subjects who received cold laser therapy.
Q: Does coffee help migraines?
A: Actually, yes. It’s the caffeine in coffee that makes a difference. In fact, caffeine is an ingredient in many over-the-counter pain relievers—it can increase the analgesic effects by as much as 40%. Caffeine works by reducing inflammation and it helps make your pain meds work a little faster, better and longer. And you may not need a pain reliever; in some instances caffeine alone can be effective in reducing your pain.
Q: What can you eat to stop headaches and migraines?
A: Your diet can play a large role in managing your migraines. However, there is no one perfect anti-migraine diet that works for everyone. That’s because while migraines may be triggered by certain foods, the exact foods tend to be different for each person. Other diet-related factors in managing your migraines include missing meals, being dehydrated, low blood sugar and not getting enough of certain nutrients, such as magnesium. At BodaHealth, our acupuncture practitioners, holistic nutritionist and naturopathic physician are able to address dietary factors contributing to your migraines by conducting an assessment of your current diet. They can then recommend a plan of foods and supplements that are tailored to your specific needs and headache profile.
Q: What pressure points get rid of migraines?
A: Good question! Pressure points are frequently acupuncture points or painful trigger points. When these points are stimulated or pressed on, it can help relieve your migraine pain. However, because each person who struggles with migraines has a different health history and headache profile, the most effective pressure points will also be different from person to person. Our acupuncturists are expertly trained in the use of these points, and they can help you determine the ones that will be the best for you.
The key takeaway if you’re experiencing migraines is to know that they usually have more than one cause, which makes it tricky to pinpoint the exact source of your headaches. This also means that managing your migraines effectively frequently involves a combination of treatments—from lifestyle changes to medications to natural therapies. The good news is that there’s help—and you don’t have to wait four years! At BodaHealth, our goal is to uncover any and all factors that are contributing to your migraines and developing a treatment strategy specific to your unique needs. If you’d like to know more about how the practitioners at BodaHealth can help get your migraines under control, please contact us.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.