Migraines - food for thought
In conventional medicine a migraine is considered to be due to a disturbance in blood flow to the brain.
There is constriction of blood vessels followed by vaso-dilation (opening of blood vessels).
Constriction is associated with visual symptoms (lights, flashes etc) and dilation is thought to lead to headache (1).
Therefore conventional treatments focus upon drugs that affect blood flow (from simple analgesics/pain relief to blood pressure reduction).
But what is the underlying cause? Why is there a disturbance in blood flow to the brain?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), symptoms are evaluated to determine where there are imbalances within the body. The most common associations with migraine are imbalances in the Liver, Stomach, Heart or Liver Blood. For example, emotional disturbances and relation to hormones with menstrual symptoms, may indicate a Liver imbalance. This could be seen as irritability, pain located in the temples and is often exacerbated by the contraceptive pill. With a Stomach imbalance, dietary factors will be triggers, eg worse for red wine, chocolate and shellfish with symptoms such as vomiting. Liver Blood headaches tend to be worse with standing, overwork and during or after menstruation (1)p283.
There may also be a combination of above symptoms and imbalances. TCM then seeks to strengthen the areas of stagnation, accumulation or deficiency through different methods (eg herbs, acupuncture).
In homeopathy the symptoms are also closely evaluated and must be matched to a remedy which has the same symptom characteristics alongside an affinity with affected organs eg stomach for stomach cramps and vomiting. Symptoms can be very individual eg desire to jump out of window, and can help choose a closely corresponding remedy to stimulate the body to rebalance.
So holistic therapists ‘read’ all the symptoms of the patient, to allow remedies and treatments to heal individual underlying causes.
Can we also ‘read our own symptoms’?
In his book ‘The Healing Power of Illness’, Dethlefsen attempts to explore the meaning of symptoms and how we can interpret them. It is certainly food for thought and may be useful for people to increase their levels of self-awareness and consciousness.
Dethlefsen discusses headaches and migraines alongside how modern human culture has developed the brain’s powers considerably (2)p154. It is also worth considering the emphasis we have placed on intellectual and academic ‘success’ within our own culture in recent years.
Dethlefsen cautions the over-development of the cerebral cortex at the expense of the rest of the body.
The head, with rational thinking and decision making cannot forge a path alone without the rest of the body – the heart/ emotions and physical roots.
‘Those of us who only follow our heads
rise to ever dizzier heights without ever being anchored
to what lies below – in which case it is little wonder
we find our ‘heads in a swim’ (2)p157.
In direct contrast to ‘thought’, Dethlefson links migraines (rather than tension headaches) to the sphere of sexuality – a very sensual level. So if our sub-conscious is trying to communicate to us through symptoms; migraines are a potential indication that we have some conflict between instinct and thought.
Dethlefson outlines how every activity begins with 1. a concept (thought) where the activity is mentally anticipated; 2. physical preparation of the body (eg increased blood supply to organs); 3. nerve transmissions to 4. muscles which translate into action (2)p161.
So one of the questions he suggests we ask ourselves if suffering from headaches is ‘am I trying to replace doing with thinking?’
Of course there are other symptoms which maybe linked to similar themes, and sometimes there is simply a direct physical cause (eg drinking too much caffeine or dehydration). For recurring symptoms with no obvious physical causation, it is worth taking some time to consider them –
how do I experience my symptoms
what are the triggers
what are the sensations
how do I feel?
Ironically what we today call ‘mindfulness’ is often about clearing the mind to be fully aware of what you are experiencing, noticing feelings and sensations in the body – perhaps it should be termed ‘bodyfulness’? Similarly meditation techniques where we experience the gaps between thoughts can be used to expand our consciousness.
that are carefully chosen to fully match the person’s symptom picture; physically, mentally and emotionally,
act as a catalyst to unite mind and body
and expand consciousness.
Gascoigne, Stephen Dr. The Clinical Medicine Guide, A Holistic Perspective. Jigme Press 2001.
Deflethsen, Thorwald. The Healing Power of Illness. Element Books, 1997.