Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Headaches and Migraines Part 1

Headaches and Migraines Part 1

This blog is aiming to give some information on current research and thinking on the management of headaches and migraines.

No major study has been undertaken in Australia on the prevalence of headaches but a best estimate based on US figures estimates there is up to three million migraine sufferers and seven million tension type headache sufferers in Australia. The direct costs to Australia would be well over a billion dollars per year.

Headaches and Migraines have long been classified as separate conditions but  current research shows that fundamentally a headache and migraine have the same root cause. As I will explain more fully as we progress on this blog the root cause of both headaches and migraines is a sensitized lower brain stem.

While I understand a migraine can feel a lot different to a headache it is actually similar concept to that of low back disk injury. You can have low back disk injury that can cause mild pain in a small area in the back or it can cause severe pain that spreads pain from the back all the way down your leg. Both cases are due to the same cause but the symptoms can be greater or  worse depending on the severity of the nerve irritation.

The premise for my approach is that headache and migraine are both due to a  sensitised brainstem.
The brainstem due to its position at the base of the head acts as a filter of information from the body as it passes into the brain. If the brainstem becomes sensitised the information that is passed onto the brain is made to seem more significant than it really is. This leads to normal information being wrongly perceived as a threat to the body. The brains response to this is to produce pain. Western medicine is in consensus with the brainstem theory as the most commonly used anti-migraine drugs which are called “tripans”( imigram, naratripan, relpax, zomig) prevent headache by desensitizing the  lower brain stem. Unfortunately the effect of these drugs is only temporary as the medicine does not treat the root cause of the sensitivity and like most medication the more of it you take the less effective it is.

The fact that migraines and headaches have the same root makes sense when you see that most tension type headache sufferers occasionally experience a more severe headache with similarities to a migraine just as most migraine sufferers will often experience a lesser headache resembling a tesion type headache. 

In the next entry I will explain the basic progression of how a migraine develops and in later entries I will look at how the lower brainstem becomes sensitized.