Sep 13, 2009

Alternative Therapies for Headaches

The medical term for a headache is cephalgia, and is defined as a pain that occurs above the eyes or ears, behind the head, or in the upper neck. Headaches are either classified as primary or secondary. Primary headaches include migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches; secondary headaches are caused by other diseases.

Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headaches with up to 90% adults suffering from them at one time or another; these headaches are more common among women than men. Similarly, migraines mainly affect women, and cause a throbbing headache that is usually accompanied with nausea and disturbed vision.

Cluster headaches, which cause extreme pain in one side of the head, are rare and mainly affect men.

Secondary headaches may result from innumerable conditions, ranging from life threatening ones such as brain tumors, strokes, meningitis and sub-arachnoid haemorrhages to less serious conditions such as withdrawal form caffeine and discontinuation of pain killers. Many people suffer from mixed headache disorders in which tension headaches or secondary headaches may trigger migraines.

The treatment of the headache depends on its type and severity and other factors such as the age of the patient.

There are a number of different complementary and alternative Medicine (CAM) treatments for headaches, which fall into two major groups: those intended a prophylaxis or pain relief, and those that reduce the patient’s stress level.

Those CAM therapies that help to reduce stress include the likes of Yoga and Tai Chi, medication, aromatherapy. Swedish massage, aromatherapy and music therapy amongst others.

CAM therapies intended to prevent or relieve discomfort include:

  1. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium). Feverfew is an herb related to the daisy that is traditionally used in England to prevent migraines. Published studies indicate that feverfew can reduce the frequency and intensity or migraines, it does not, however, relieve pain once the headache has begun.

  1. Butterbur root (petasites hybridus). Petadolex is a natural preparation made from butterbur root that has been sold in Germany since the 1970s as a migraine preventive.

  1. Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri). Brahmi is an herb used in Eastern / Unani medicine and Ayurvedic medicine to treat headaches related to anxiety

  1. Acupuncture. Studies funded by the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), USA, have found that acupuncture is an effective treatment for headaches.

  1. Naturopathy. Naturopaths include dietary advice and nutritional therapy in their approach to treatment, which is often effective for patients with episodic or chronic tension headaches.

  1. Chiropractic. Some patients with tension or migraine headaches find spinal manipulation effective in relieving their pain.

By Dr Aftab Saeed

The writer is Research Professor, HIASR, Faulty of Eastern Medicine, Hamdard University Karachi

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