HBOT for Migraines: How It Works

Early theories speculate migraines occurred because of changes in the blood flow to the brain. While blood flow changes do occur and contribute to the pain, current beliefs are that changes in hormone levels, such as serotonin and estrogen, trigger the migraine. One theory is that waves of activity in the brain cells trigger the release of serotonin, which in turn narrows the blood vessels. When these blood vessels narrow, oxygen to the brain is reduced. It is thought that these reduced oxygen levels are responsible for triggering migraines.

With this hypoxia or reduced oxygen levels, using HBOT treatments to address migraine symptoms makes sense. During HBOT treatments, doctors administer 100 percent oxygen at increased pressure, delivering oxygen directly to the brain. This helps reduce swelling. Although HBOT won’t prevent headaches or reduce the frequency, many patients who come in for HBOT treatment during a migraine have found that it stops the pain immediately and completely.

Recent Studies on HBOT and Migraine Headaches

Recent Studies on HBOT and Migraine Headaches

Numerous studies looked at the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen and HBOT on migraine symptoms and pain. One study, conducted by Dr. William Fife and Dr. Caroline Fife, looked at 26 migraine patients. All but one patient experienced complete pain relief within minutes of beginning the session. Two patients had temporary paralysis of one side of their face as a result of a migraine. HBOT effectively treated the paralysis as well.

A 1995 study compared the effects of hyperbaric oxygen treatment versus normobaric oxygen, or 100 percent oxygen delivered at normal air pressure. The study took 20 patients with 10 receiving 100 percent oxygen at one atmospheric pressure (normobaric). The other 10 received 100 percent oxygen at two atmospheres of pressure (HBOT). The results showed that one patient in the normobaric group experienced relief from their symptoms while nine of the 10 in the HBOT groups experienced symptom relief.

In a 2008 study, researchers looked at and compared nine trials with a total of 201 participants. There were looking at the effectiveness of HBOT in treating migraines and cluster headaches. They determined that HBOT effectively eliminated the pain and symptoms during a migraine attack, but was not effective at preventing migraines.

If you would like to learn more about how hyperbaric oxygen and HBOT can help treat your migraines, give our office a call today. You may also click HERE to fill out a contact form and our staff will get back to you.

What is a Migraine?

From a clinical standpoint, a migraine is diagnosed if a person has five or more unprovoked headaches that last four to 72 hours or more and are severe enough to restrict or prohibit daily activity. They include symptoms such as nausea and light and sound sensitivity. In most cases of migraines, the pain is isolated to one side of the head, often causing a throbbing pain. While auras, or visual disturbances, can occur with migraines, not all migraine patients experience them. They are believed to be genetic in origin, with 90 percent of migraine sufferers having a family history of migraines. This genetic predisposition reflects a hypersensitivity in certain brain cells, that when triggered by an environmental change, such as a change in barometric pressure (external change) or a change in the body’s hormone levels (internal change), trigger pain.

Four Different Phases of Migraines

Four Different Phases of Migraines

While migraines are different for every person, they are four distinct phases. Not every patient experiences each phase. Someone may experience three of the four phases with on migraine and then all four for another. These four phases include:

  • Prodrome – This is an early warning stage that a migraine is coming. It typically occurs 24 hours before a migraine occurs but can occur a few hours to a few days before a migraine. Symptoms include food cravings, fluid retention, increased urination, uncontrollable yawning, and unexplained mood changes.
  • Aura – Not all people experience the aura stage. If you do, you will experience visual disturbances, such as flashing and bright lights or seeing zigzag lines. Other symptoms in this phase can include muscle weakness, vision loss, pins and needles sensations in the arms and legs, difficulty speaking, uncontrollable jerking movements, and hearing noises. Auras can continue into the next phase.
  • Headache – Migraine pain typically starts gradually, with pain intensifying over time. The pain is throbbing or pulsing pain, often on one side of the head. Additional symptoms during this phase include nausea/vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and sound, blurred vision, lightheadedness, fainting, and more.
  • Postdrome – Postdrome, also known as a migraine hangover, is the recovery stage after a headache passes. You may experience exhaustion, weakness, confusion, sensitivity to light and sound, and moodiness that lasts for several days. Drinking plenty of water and rest helps reduce time and symptoms.

Traditional Migraine Treatment Options

Traditional Migraine Treatment Options

There is no cure for migraines. Treatment focuses on pain management and trying to reduce the severity and frequency of attacks. Pain management can include medications such as over-the-counter pain relievers, triptans, ergots, opioids, and glucocorticoids. Anti-nausea medications are also prescribed. If you suffer from more than four migraines a month, attacks last for more than 12 hours, or you do not experience relief from pain medications, your doctor may consider daily medications to help reduce the frequency and severity of your migraines. These medications include cardiovascular drugs, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, Botox injections, or Erenumab-aooe, a once-monthly injection.

If you suffer from migraines and would like more information on how hyperbaric oxygen and HBOT can help you, give our office a call today and set up an initial consultation with Dr. Spiegel and his team or visit HERE and fill out our online form. They will go over your medical history and help create a treatment plan just for you.

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