The characteristics and symptoms of migraine were recognised as far back as the second century AD. Research into migraine has put forward several scientific physiological explanations of the illness, but the symptoms remain largely as described by the ancient physicians.  


Symptoms of the common migraine are a violent throbbing pain in the temple, unilateral but often spreading to the opposite side; the headache is accompanied by feelings of nausea, and for some patients vomiting occurs. Other symptoms are highly variable from person to person but include weakness and tingling in one or both arms, lethargy, drowsiness, bowel disturbance, mood swings and feelings of dread.
A specific feature of classic migraine is the aura - a visual disturbance with flashing lights and impaired vision; this kind of migraine does not always produce a headache but has a number of disturbing features including hallucinations loss of vision and numbness in the face and tongue. The duration of a migraine attack can be anything from a few hours to several days, the degree of pain experienced and the variety of symptoms are specific to each individual.
Migraine has a tendency to run in families. However, there may also be a shared lifestyle issues and it is known that environmental or lifestyle factors play a role. These factors may potentiate the predisposition such as age and, for woman, hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle and in menopause.

Triggers for migraine are very individual but include


·        Lack of food or sleep

·        Stress, anxiety, exhaustion

·        Flickering lights, TV screens etc.

·        Specific foods

·        Hormonal fluctuation

·        Prescription medication.


The herbalist believes that poor liver function, low acid levels and sluggish digestion and also bowel disorders are all likely to contribute to migraine attacks.
Conventional (allopathic) treatment of migraine consists of powerful chemical drugs for symptomatic relief of pain, control of the inflammatory processes, nausea and also drugs that increase serotonin levels in the blood. There are prophylactic treatments to prevent attacks such as epilepsy medication - all these different drugs can have unpleasant side effects.


The complexities of migraine require a broad approach and the Medical Herbalist will try to identify the trigger factors with the patient, use herbs to support and restore the nervous system; also to help reduce stress and anxiety, provide symptomatic relief of pain and nausea; improve liver function and the digestive processes.


Migraine triggers and treatments vary from one patient to another, what works for one may not work for someone else. Current research has yet to identify its cause. However, once all the factors are evaluated it should be possible to treat the underlying symptoms, reduce the number of attacks and provide symptomatic and pain relief for migraine attacks when they occur. Currently there are no cures for migraine, but the condition can be managed effectively and Herbal Medicine has a part to play in treatment options. 
Jackie Power BSc (Hons) ITEC MIFPA ANP
Medical Herbalist