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Most migraine sufferers do not want to think about anything much less focus on something. Migraines and other pounding headaches make people want to crawl in bed and hide. A new study, however, suggests that an alternative to sleep and headache medications – may indeed be focusing deeply, internally and meditate migraines away.
A research team from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina and Harvard Medical School found that meditating can relieve the intensity of migraines. In their study published in the journal Headache, they also found that they can shorten their duration.
A migraine is a throbbing headache, often stronger on one side of the head, which is often accompanied by nausea and light sensitivity and is severe enough to impede routine activities. Migraines affect 10 percent of Americans and one in six women.
Assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist Rebecca Erwin Wells, who served as lead author, explained that the pilot study arose from the knowledge that stress is a common trigger for migraines. Wells noted that prior research supported mind/body relaxation interventions, but there had not been adequate research on different meditation methods as an intervention.
The study assessed how effective a meditation and yoga technique called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) would be in helping migraine sufferers. There were 19 adult participants. Ten of them received the MBSR intervention while nine received standard treatments and medical care for their migraines. The MBSR group attended classes for eight weeks to learn the mindfulness techniques and was expected to practice 45 minutes on their own five times per week.
The participants maintained headache logs before, during and after the study trial period to ascertain the frequency, severity and duration of their migraines. They used objective measures of disability and mindfulness.
The research showed that the MBSR group “had trends of fewer migraines that were less severe,” Wells said. The headaches were shorter in length (approximately three hours on average) and less disabling. According to Wells they also had increases in mindfulness and a greater sense of control over their migraines.
Statistically, the MBSR participants had 1.4 fewer migraines per month that were reportedly less severe. In addition, the participants’ headaches were much shorter than those suffered by the control group.
The research team concluded that MBSR is a feasible and effective therapy for adults with migraines. However, they acknowledge that their pool of participants in this first study was too small. They could not detect statistically significant changes in migraine severity or frequency. Further studies with larger numbers of participants are planned to further evaluate the impact and mechanisms of MBSR in adults with migraine headaches, Wells noted.
Other studies have shown that mindfulness meditation helps reduce stress responses. It has been shown to be effective in dealing with depression and anxiety as well as this pilot on migraines headaches.
For the estimated 36 million Americans who have migraines, there is a need for non-pharmaceutical treatment strategies, according to Wells. It would clearly be nice for sufferers to know conclusively that MBSR or other meditation techniques make migraines go away.
By Dyanne Weiss