Migraine - how hypnotherapy can help

The most common neurological disease in the world's name stems from the Greek words for “half” and “cranium”. Celebrity sufferers include Albert Einstein, Elvis Presley and Julius Caesar.

Alterations - and particularly dilatation - of the calibre of blood vessels within the brain lead to the pain. Heredity plays a part. Females appear to outnumber male patients 2 to 1.

The headache is throbbing, debilitating and usually confined to one side. It may be accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light and speech difficulty. Attacks may be preceded by a warning “aura” in some patients. This takes the form of visual phenomena (e.g. zig-zag lines).

The list of triggers is long. It includes various foods, alcohol, noise and hormonal changes. But right at the top of the list are stress and sleep disturbance.

Modern medicine can help. Painkillers, obviously, have a part to play. Triptans, beta-blockers  and pizotifen have been used as preventative measures. Despite these advances, most patients retreat to a darkened room until it’s all over.

Hypnotherapy is useful in two ways. First, we know that stress and lack of sleep are powerful triggers. Hypnotherapy is particularly effective in this area. Reducing the trigger potential lessens the likelihood of an attack. Secondly, hypnotherapy teaches the patient to reduce the suffering component of pain. In consequence, it can augment the degree of comfort for the sufferer.

In 1975, Anderson reported his prospective, randomised, double-blind trial in a peer reviewed journal. He compared a group of patients receiving hypnotherapy with another group receiving ergotamine and prochlorperazine (a standard drug combination at the time). The hypnotherapy group subsequently reported a comparative reduction in both the total number of attacks and the frequency of incapacitating attacks.

Since that time, similar results have been replicated both in adults and children. Hammond (2007) has summarised the research and concluded by recommending hypnotherapy for migraines.

Part of the misery of migraine is that it robs people of a sense of control. Patients feel at the mercy of an unpredictable, uncontrollable enemy. Hypnotherapy has been shown to restore an important degree of autonomy, to reverse pessimistic thought patterns and to reduce the experience of pain.

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