Migraine is a common problem affecting about 1 in 6 women and about 1 in 16 men. It is estimated that about 2 million Australians suffer from migraine with 3/4 of them women. Alarmingly, studies show that up to 50% of people that suffer from migraine have not actually been diagnosed, which means that they are probably not getting the best treatment.
Whilst migraine can affect anyone at any age, men and women in their 20s and 30s are most likely to suffer, although migraines can be a significant health problem for children too.
Many people that suffer from migraines recognise that they experience different stages (which reflect the different underlying neurological changes that occur) which include:
Early Warning Symptoms – Some people that suffer from migraines experience early warning symptoms (known as “prodromal symptoms”) up to 24 hours before the attack starts. These symptoms can include general aches and pains (especially neck tension and stiffness), changes in mood or personality, feelings of lethargy and incessant yawning, difficulty thinking, changes in appetite and gut problems such as constipation or diarrhoea.
Aura – Nearly 1 in 3 people that suffer from migraines experience symptoms of aura before the headache starts. The most common aura symptoms, which can last for up to an hour, are visual changes such as flashing lights, difficulty focussing, blind spots and zig-zag lines.
Resolution – Eventually (at least for most people) the migraine attack will come to end. Sometimes people don’t start to feel better until after they have been sick and for others not until they have “slept it off.”
Recovery – Many people feel quite fragile and very drained for up to a day or so after the attack.
In addition to the “common migraine” and “migraine with aura” outlined above some people can suffer with other types of migraine that can cause vertigo and dizziness, balance problems, slurred speech and weakness on one side of the body (all of which can resemble a stroke). Finally, children that suffer with migraine often experience abdominal migraines which cause seemingly unexplained stomach pains.
Today many people are surprised to learn that migraines are in fact understood to be a brain-based disorder. Sophisticated brain imaging has shown abnormalities in the function of parts of the brain known as the brain-stem and cerebral cortex. Research has shown two important findings: Firstly, that the brain’s of people with migraine appear to be working “slower” on one side (known as “decreased pre-activation”); and secondly, that the brain’s of people with migraine appear to be more sensitive to repetitive stimuli (known as “reduced habituation”).
At The Perth Brain Centre we focus primarily on identifying the underlying problems through a careful and detailed examination and then we use targeted treatment directed towards improving brain function. We perform a special brain scan, known as a QEEG, which helps to identify the location of any “weak” areas in the brain. This information is used to develop a treatment programme that is focussed upon “strengthening” brain function often through a course of neurofeedback therapy, which has been shown to be “dramatically effective in abolishing or significantly reducing headache frequency in patients with recurrent migraine.”
Neurofeedback is a brain-based treatment that uses a sophisticated brain-computer interface to “strengthen” or retrain the brain. Neurofeedback harnesses neuroplasticity and the brain’s natural and life-long ability to learn by training brainwaves, the tiny electrical signals produced by the brain. At The Perth Brain Centre we use QEEG brain scans to pin-point the “weak” areas of the brain. In many cases of migraine there are disturbances in brain wave activity affecting a region know as the “sensorimotor cortex”. Neurofeedback works by “strengthening” or retraining this “weak” part of the brain by normalising brainwave activity.
In addition to office-based Neurofeedback Therapy, we also look to help identify and minimise as many “migraine triggers” as possible. Stress is often a significant trigger for migraine headaches and many patients find that HeartMath HRV Biofeedback (a proven stress-management programme that can be practised at home) is very helpful in reducing stress and reducing migraine headaches.
There are many other migraine triggers that can include stiffness affecting the neck, jaw and upper back, too much or too little sleep, hormonal fluctuations, environmental factors (such as strong smells, flickering lights, loud noises and even changes in the weather) and dietary factors (including skipping meals, dehydration, alcohol and caffeine, MSG and certain foods). We are very happy to provide specific advice on how best to manage these triggers. Finally some people also find that certain vitamins and supplements can help to reduce the severity and frequency of their migraines and we are happy to provide specific advice in this regard as well.
To discover how we can help you please call to arrange an appointment on (08) 6500 3277 now.