Study Examines Use of Alternative Treatments for Headache in the U.S.

Many individuals with migraine or another headache disease seek complementary or alternative treatments to medication. Some complementary or alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and mind-body therapies, have shown promising results in clinical trials. With the popularity of these treatments, a group of researchers looked to learn more about which treatments were most preferred by individuals with migraine or other headache diseases, as well as the reasons for selecting these alternative treatments.

The study was published in the September 2017 edition of Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. It focused on the more than 6,500 adults who participated in the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). This secondary investigation of the survey analyzed patients who responded “yes” to at least one of these two questions: have you had recurring headaches during the past 12 months; and, have you had severe headache/migraine during the past 3 months.

Respondents to the survey were also asked about their use of complementary and alternative treatments. Researchers divided these treatments into six different types: herbs and non-vitamin, non-mineral supplements; manipulative therapies, such as massage; mind-body therapies, such as biofeedback; special diets; movement therapies, such as Pilates; and, other treatments, including acupuncture.

Analysis found that about half of those with migraine or another headache disease used a complementary treatment along with conventional treatment. The study found that the greater the severity of the headache disease, the more likely they were to participate in a form of complementary or alternative treatment.

Researchers said they hoped these findings would encourage health care professionals to integrate complementary treatments with the practice of conventional medicine. However, they acknowledged that more research needs to be done to understand the needs of individuals with migraine or another headache disease.

The study found the use of alternative therapies varied greatly depending on socioeconomic and other health factors. Users of alternative treatments were likely to be middle-aged, college-educated, employed, white, non-smoking women. These users also reported a normal BMI and better general health.

Researchers said this could suggest the benefit of complementary and alternative treatments, or it could show that individuals in worse health were less likely to turn to these forms of therapy.

Better understanding of why individuals with migraine or other headache disease choose specific treatment options is important for further investigation, the authors of the study concluded.

  • Natalie
    Posted at 03:40h, 24 October Reply

    Use of ‘complimentary’ medicine is on the increase because the drugs don’t work. They only mask the and deaden the real effects. If neurologists and other scientists weren’t so tied up in their own belief systems and listened to what sufferers were actually saying to them perhaps more progress could be made towards better medication. Complimentary meds work better because it gets nearer the cause of the migraine, electrical activity…..thats why some anti-epileptics work but they come with bad side effects too. Why do animals react before earthquakes? It hurts them….just like it hurts me, I get migraine before deep earthquakes in the asthenosphere but tell a neurologist that the electrical activity (seismic waves) created by the buildup of those quakes can cause sensitive individuals like me and they laugh, so I seek alternative medicine to help me. But think what could be achieved if what I know is true was researched and a drug designed specifically targeting the area that is being irritated by those frequencies? If animals are affected, why not human….animals? According to Darwin we evolved from animals and our DNA still contains a lot of that survival information, but not warning feelings about earthquakes apparently.

  • Irene Kotlarz
    Posted at 16:32h, 24 October Reply

    Do you know about the new sTMS device that was just approved by the FDA for migraine? It’s non-drug and uses magnetic stimulation. I’m about to try it so can’t yet vouch for whether it’s effective.

  • Jim Davis
    Posted at 07:57h, 25 October Reply

    I suffer from acute migraine attacks along with chronic daily headaches. I also suffer from long term depression after a stroke many years ago. I find that the SSRI’s I take for depression have reduced the severity of my migraines but the frequency is about the same – 3 or 4 a month. I also take Neurontin for my CDH and it has reduced the intensity and provides longer periods without headache but hasn’t reduced them completely.

    I tried acupuncture many years ago and no effect at all. I try to practice mindfulness meditation but I’m not very consistent. While i see some overall effect in mood it has no effect on headaches. I exercise regularly by playing pickleball (a racquet sport) and that helps with mood but doesn’t reduce headache. Conversely I find that if I play exceptionally hard I occasionally get migraine.

    I generally try to take viamins and supplements that have shown to have some effectiveness against migraine and CDH but not sure if I am getting a positive result. If I am it’s small and hard to separate from other things I do or take.

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