The People's Perspective on Medicine

Headache Relief Elusive

Q. I am desperate to find a way to relieve my headaches. I have been prescribed at least a dozen different drugs for tension headaches and migraines. Here is a partial list of what I have tried in vain: propranolol, gabapentin, divalproex and nortriptyline. I have taken as many as 12 Motrin pills in a day.
Imitrex helps my migraines but does nothing for my daily tension headaches. I would love to have a more natural way to control my headaches. What can you tell me about feverfew and riboflavin?

A. Frequent use of pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may actually result in rebound headaches. That is, the medicine may actually be setting you up for a vicious cycle of more frequent headaches.
The herb feverfew, the B vitamin riboflavin and the mineral magnesium have all been shown to be helpful in preventing migraines (Clinical Journal of Pain, June, 2009). Other natural approaches include the herb butterbur and the supplement Coenzyme Q10. Acupuncture and biofeedback can also be helpful.
We are sending you our brand new Guide to Headaches and Migraines with more detailed information on these approaches.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Headaches & Migraines
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Download 8 pages about the causes of headaches. Migraine triggers, and drug and non-drug treatments for migraines and cluster headaches. Coping with menstrual migraines and sex headaches.

Headaches & Migraines
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I have been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy but do no have diabetes.
The only drug I took (pain medication came later) was Gabapentin. I am
60 years old and have never taken anything other than antibiotics (a
few times in my life). I went to the doctor because I had extreme foot
pain and I couldn’t sleep at night. The doctor gave me Gabapentin and
said it was non-narcotic. In a few weeks I had numbness in my feet and
hoped it was only temporary–but it turned out permanent (the neurologist
said so).
I also had hair loss, a horrible outbreak of my psoriasis (usually
minor patches), unsteadiness, constipation, etc. Went back to the clinic
and they said I needed to take more Gabapentin! Finally, I stopped it
and things improved but I have the permanent numbness and now my ankles
swell during the day and are extremely uncomfortable. At this point I
don’t know what to do and what kind of doctor to see. My hips hurt, and
lower back. I am not financially able to go anywhere but the county hospital.
Any advice? Could Gabapentin have caused this?
DJD

Biofeedback! I was getting migraines several times per week (mostly triggered by stress) for about 8 years – almost every day at one point. After a few months of biofeedback combined with massage therapy I am down to a few per month (generally triggered by PMS). In addition to learning how to control my breathing/tension/stress at biofeedback, I also learned to adjust other parts of my life (i.e. exercise – VERY important!, more protein, consistent sleep pattern). Good luck!

Indeed. People should be more careful with those pain reliever drugs. Rebound headaches are nasty.
It’s better to find out what your migraine triggers are instead. If you ever get hit after eating food, you may have discovered your trigger.
What I’ve discovered is that there are quite a few foods that can trigger your migraine. Here’s a couple: Vegetables, Fruits, Breads, Meats and seafood, Diary products, Beverages high in alcohol & caffeine.

I’ve had migraines for many years. For over 13 years, I had one every day with the exception of 1 to 3 times a month. A few months ago we decided to get off all the drugs the doctor has sold us, which never really worked anyway. I discovered, while snacking on them, that Organic Crystallized Ginger took the migraines away. It has worked 100% of the time for me, and also for my husband. I eat one as soon as I feel a migraine coming on. If it returns, I eat another. No side effects, can’t OD on it, delicious. What a blessing this has been! I buy the ginger at our local health food co-op.

I used to be benefited by Imitrex and also by Zomig for migraines. But I learned that cutting the pill into quarters and trying the least amount possible eliminated that tightness in the chest. It also saved money. I don’t have insurance. That was my main motive. Often just 1/4 of a tablet stopped the migraine within an hour. If not, I would take a second 1/4 of a tablet. That worked for a couple of my friends who followed this suggestion.~

I too had daily headaches that were not helped by medications. I went to my dentist and he mentioned that I has holding a lot of tension in my jaw which could be causing the headaches. He perscribed a mouth guard for me, and now I rarely have any headaches. I have been wearing the mouth guard for over 10 years and can’t believe how easy it was to treat this.

I have had migraines for years and tried every known medicine to prevent them. I have a heart problem so I could not take most of them. Also, two of them causes me to have high blood pressure. I went to one neurologist who told me I was having some “seizure migraines”. This is where the migraine mimics a stroke. It causes slurred speech, memory loss, and loss of mental awareness, and bad coordination.I have been taken to the ER several times when I have one of those because it mimics a stroke. I see a lot of helpful hints here that I am going to try. One neurologist just kept giving me pain meds to the point where I felt like I was seeing a drug dealer and not a doctor!!!!
I was having rebound migraines for 6 years because of that and I stopped seeing that doctor. I also have Type 2 diabetes and notice that when my blood glucose is high I get a migraine.

What can you tell me about ButterBur? A recent Reader’s Digest article told of its benefits to eliminate headaches.
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: BUTTERBUR (PETASITES) HAS BEEN FOUND HELPFUL IN CLINICAL TRIALS. IF YOU DECIDE TO TRY IT, BE SURE TO GET A SUPER-CRITICAL EXTRACT THAT IS PA-FREE.

Has anyone lost mental awareness and memory with a migraine? I was physically present but lost awareness for about fifteen minutes while suffering a migraine and it took me another several minutes to remember where I was and what was happening around me. Thanks!

I used to have very bad migraines and had them for years. My blood pressure became a little high and my doctor put me on Diltiazem CD (80mg extended release capsule) and my migraines stopped. My doctor thinks that the medicine stops the blood vessels in my brain from spasming. It is a calcium channel blocker. It does not lower blood pressure drastically so can be taken by people whose blood pressure is normal.

I have to take Imitrex when I get migraines. It takes away the blindness, retching, slurring of speech, and pain but leaves me with a tight chest, difficulty breathing, and dizziness. I HATE taking it but it seems to be the only thing that stops the full array of symptoms…

Good suggestions to consider food triggered migraines. A friend of mine had debilitating migraines. She found that by eliminating refined sugars and simple carbohydrates from her diet that she could be migraine free. She also found that it was possible to add small amounts of simple sugars to her diet without migraines.

I have had headaches for years – very sharp pain (like an ice cream rush) and, like others, have tried everything. A nutritionist told me scented products were causing some of my headaches. I now use unscented soaps, lotions, cleaning products and also try to avoid scents in stores, like the candle dept. (Windex especially sets me off) The headache usually comes the next day, after the scent works its way into the cells (according to this nutritionist). I also avoid products with MSG. I am having fewer headaches now.

I have been a massage therapist for 25 years. My clients with headaches have benefited from deep tissue massage, Craniosacral therapy, and chiropractic help. Resources for therapists are at http://www.amtamassage.org and for Craniosacral therapists at http://www.upledger.com. I hope this info and the others posted here help you. May you be well.

Have you considered a food diary to determine if you are allergic to foods? I have food-triggered migraines, so I’ve learned what foods will trigger a headache.
At the top of the list was citrus products, peanut butter, red wine and dairy products. These items tracked with the list the neurologist gave me. So after avoiding these foods, I also take 800 mg daily of Vit. B2, feverfew and magnesium, and for the most part the headaches are controlled.
I use diclofenac as an early onset pain medication, and if that doesn’t slow it down, I take Relpax. Note — I’ve been able to cut the relpax pill in half and find relief — don’t need as much medication and to save money.

With respect to the person suffering from headaches. I suffered from migraine headaches for over ten years. I took several different drugs without success. Back in the 1970’s chiropractors were not very popular and were considered quacks by many in the medical community.
At the time, I was in such bad shape, that I finally had to go to a chiropractor. It took several visits and several months, but I finally started getting relief. Something was wrong in my neck and my upper spine, from an accident when I was a kid.
The most important thing for me, was to keep a journal, as to how I felt each day, because my memory is poor. I could see right away that I was making progress. The migraines were less intense and struck me less often. But, the person has to have an open mind to alternative healing. JA

I had a BAD case of rebound headaches a few months back. I had been taking pills for headaches and they seemed to get worse and worse. I visited a doctor and he suggested I try stopping the pills. At first I was shocked–how can I get better without pills? But then I tried a Head-On homeopathic medicine, and it actually works! It helped me bridge the gap between pills and no pills, and now I’m over the rebound headaches.

Have you ever tried food allergy testing? Once I found my food allergies (wheat and dairy) my migraines went away. Now I can tell if there is a hidden ingredient – the ones listed at the bottom of the label that I didn’t think would be in a food; I get a headache.

I have found acupuncture extremely helpful for my migraine headaches. After nine years of headaches, averaging three or more significant headaches a month, with many more partial ones, I was desperate. The prescription drug Amerge was quite helpful, but I was looking for a more natural solution. I watched my diet, exercised every day, but still the headaches occurred. The change in the headache pattern with the acupuncture was quite gradual, with no change at all the first few months. They did eventually begin to abate, and now five years later, I have perhaps one a year. Needless to say, I am a fan of acupuncture.

I started getting headaches early last year, but it was always at the same time of the month, during the week that I was off my prescription, as if it was some kind of withdrawal or sudden hormone change or something. I started eating 1/2 banana each day that week, and it seemed to help.
The next month I added vitamin E in with that, and I felt even better. The next month I started this regimen a couple days before the headaches started, and only had to take Advil once. The next month I added magnesium at the same time, and completely avoided pain medications. It may be all a coincidence, but I’ve kept up this routine since then and coincidentally I don’t have monthly headaches anymore.

I, like my mother, suffered from migraines that would last for days (sometimes 4-5 days) at least three times per month. More often than not I had a migraine. For about 15 years I participated in headache studies, took OTC pain relief in large quantities and later regularly took an Axert/800 mg of ibuprofen/Promethazine combination until I started training for triathlons about 2 years ago and my migraines went away.
I understand that some researchers think migraines are, in some cases, caused by the vacillation of blood vessels in the brain. The dilating blood vessel presses against surrounding brain tissue causing pain which in turn causes the blood vessel to vacillate – a vicious cycle. I believe exercising causes a regulation in the vacillation of the blood vessels (much in the same way that exercise can reduce high blood pressure).
I don’t think you’d have to start training for triathlons to reap similar benefits – today I exercise regularly but not as strenuously as when I was training and I’m still migraine free. I haven’t even filled my Axert prescription in years and rarely take ibuprofen (which I understand can increase blood pressure).
Good luck. I know the pain you’re in.

After a life time of migraines (of up to 18 weeks in duration each) I am now nearly migraine-free. I discontinued medication and focused on migraine prevention and early intervention. Prevention strategies includes preventing constipation, hunger or fatigue.
Early intervention includes drop of peppermint oil in ear (Japanese remedy) and sipping Gatorade to restore fluid and electrolyte balance. Best source for prevention and intervention information from publication (1970, revised 1992) by neurologist Oliver Sacks on migraine resiliency/coping.
I realized many strategies identified were already used by me and it added others. It sounds dramatic to state a book saved my life, but this one did

Green drinks containing spinach, parsley, celery and sometimes other greens can be very effective against headaches. Not only do they help to eliminate headaches they give the body exceptional overall nutrition with NO SIDE EFFECTS! Several companies bottle green drink combinations and they can be found in Health Food stores and many supermarkets.

I didn’t think I would ever be without daily headaches. I was taking at least 4 Tylenol and several Excedrin every day. About 2 years ago, as a test (and I didn’t really believe it would work) I tried telling myself “I’m a person who used to have headaches” instead of medicating. It has been nothing short of a miracle! I could literally feel the tight ‘band’ around my head loosening. I now seldom have headaches. It took only a couple of weeks. Now it is obvious that I was over-medicating, but I would not have believed it before then.

The items you recommend for headaches, in what doses? Thanks Larry

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