The Misery Of Migraine… and what to do about it

Gower Acupuncture (Swansea) with Tim Wright


Migraine covers a multitude of symptoms from one-sided head pain, aura and light sensitivity, nausea, vertigo and dizziness and even unilateral paralysis and weakness. If you suffer, you suffer with a massive one in seven of the UK population.

The first step in trying to remedy migraine is to unearth the cause. These can primary or secondary. Secondary migraine or headache results from another disease or condition. Primary headache have a direct link.


When looking at secondary migraine you’re essentially ruling out the scary (and quite often least likely) causes:

Tumour.  This is a rare cause of headache – but well worth ruling out.  A CT or MRI scan can put your mind at rest. Typically the headache will be recent, you may experience changes in behaviour and memory recall and experience persistent nausea and vomiting rather than the fleeting bouts, symptomatic of migraine. Unfortunately many symptoms of tumour are very similar to symptoms of migraine.

Aneurism and Haematoma. Feeling sick, stiff neck, double vision, seizures,  weakness on one side of the body. Unfortunately these symptoms again can mimic migraine. Go to your GP to get it checked out.

Carotid Artery Disease. The carotid artery is the main artery in the neck. Narrowing of this artery can cause visual and light disturbances with symptoms similar to migraine.

High Blood pressure can put extra tension on the sensitive blood vessels causing extreme headaches. If you’re also having problems breathing, feel fatigued, have chest pains and pounding in neck and ears get your blood pressure checked. You may have hypertension.

Low Blood Pressure can lead to inadequate blood supply to the muscles around the neck and head and can lead to poor supply to the brain. You can test both high and low blood pressure with your GP.

Hypothyroid. Are you feeling tired, sluggish, gaining weight, losing hair with your headaches? If so it’s worth getting your thyroid checked. A blood test with your GP should suffice, but in some cases you may need further tests under an endocrinologist.


So those are some of the serious causes worth eliminating before you chase down the cause of primary migraine/ headache:
Muscular tension: Trigger points in muscles can cause an astonishing array of symptoms ranging from pain in the head mimicking migraine to dizziness, sinus pain and tinnitus. In 1998 researchers discovered a connection between a small muscle in the neck (rectus capitis posterior minor) and the pain sensitive dura matter that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. When this muscle is tight it pulls on the dura and creates pain in the head.

Since the 1940s Dr Janet Travell (President JFK’s physician, no less) has advanced the work of trigger point therapy, finding numerous other relationships between muscular tension and pain in the head. The main tenant of “trigger point” being that tightness in a muscle can refer pain into another part of the muscle or into another area entirely.
– Nutritional deficiencies: Spend a lot of time indoors? Symptoms get worse in the winter? Don’t eat much in the way of fish, eggs or diary? Perhaps you have a Vitamin D deficiency. Particularly important to check out given that Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risk of cancer.

Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to demyelination of nerve sheaths (essentially damaging the nerves), mimicking symptoms of MS; weakness, tiredness, numbness and tingling, depression. I implore you to get your B12 levels checked if you’re suffering any/ all of the symptoms. There are two aspects to B12 deficiency. 1) You may not be eating enough B12 rich foods (red meat, fish, shell fish, fortified soy products, dairy). 2) You may not be absorbing nutrients efficiently. In this case you’ll need B12 injections.

Calcium Deficiency. Calcium deficiency can cause a variety of symptoms; muscle spasms and cramps, numbness and tingling, brittle nails and confusion and memory loss. If you suspect calcium deficiency, get a blood test with your GP. Its a common myth that dairy is the only source of calcium. In contrast greens such as broccoli and kale are excellent sources, as are sardines and almonds. Again it’s worth checking that you are absorbing calcium. You’ll need sufficient vitamin D to effectively absorb calcium.

Magnesium: Magnesium is an essential electrolyte, important for proper muscle and nerve function.  Deficiency can result in muscle weakness, twitching, dizziness, nausea and irritability. It can even be the root cause of low calcium or potassium levels.

Sleep Apnea: Poor breathing during sleep can lead to lower blood oxygenation levels. Low levels of oxygenation equals low energy and can contribute to migraine. If you have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning, find yourself tired and lifeless you may be suffering from sleep apnea. It’s worth checking your blood oxygenation either with a monitor at home (bearing in mind these devices are not hugely accurate) or via a blood test.

Anything Else Worth Considering – Can Acupuncture Help?

If you want to stay away from medication then acupuncture can be a very effective treatment for migraine. Fortunately it’s also got the seal of approval by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) who recommend a course of up to 10 treatments for both migraine and tension headache.

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