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Homeopathy for headaches

The following is largely adapted from First-aid and Acute Care: The NCH Study Guide.

Homeopathic home care can be appropriate for occasional mild to moderate headaches, brought on by obvious causes such as anxiety, lack of sleep, alcohol, overwork, etc. Of course, in addition to selecting the appropriate homeopathic remedy, it's also important to address the cause (e.g., reduce tension, get enough sleep, change eating habits, etc.).

Most headaches are either due to strain on the muscles in the neck or head (muscle tension) or congestion of the blood vessels that supply the neck and head (vascular). For more about the various types of headaches and self-care measures, consult a book like Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines, by Cummings and Ullman.

In order to select a useful homeopathic remedy, the three most important things to identify about a headache are: 1) the modalities of the pain (i.e., when does it happen? what makes it feel better or worse?); 2) the location of the pain (e.g., is it in the forehead, the base of the skull, does it move from one side to another?); 3) the sensation (e.g., does it feel like your head is splitting? or that a nail is being driven in? or that you are being pressed in a vise?). Pay particular attention to the strongest, most definite, and most peculiar symptoms of the headache. If you are experiencing new general symptoms along with the headache (i.e., symptoms relating to a person as a whole, such as "restlessness," "feeling chilly," etc.), these may also be noted.

If you have access to a repertory, you might consult it to determine which remedies are common to this constellation of symptoms. Next, reading these remedies in a good materia medica and choosing the best match could often help you find a curative remedy.

The section in most large repertories devoted to "head pain" is very detailed and very complex to understand—without fully understanding the layout of the repertory and its use—and that is a lesson that is too large for us here.* If you're not used to using a large repertory, however, paging through the "head pain" section is an excellent way to familiarize yourself, because all the other sections of the repertory are organized in a similar fashion.

If you don't have access to a repertory, you can consult the "headache" section in one or more homeopathy self-care books and read the various descriptions of remedies commonly prescribed for headaches. As you're reading, however, it's important to keep in mind the unique symptoms you've already identified about your headache—so as not to get sidetracked. If you don't stay focused on those unique symptoms, it's funny how all the remedy descriptions begin to look alike ...

Below is a short list of some of the most common remedies that can be helpful for headaches.

Belladonna, Nux vomica and Bryonia are the remedies most likely to be helpful for people suffering from an acute headache with few other symptoms.

     Belladonna: intense headache with violent throbbing pains; extreme sensitivity to light, noise, touch, strong or unusual smell or jarring; pains begin and end suddenly; pain may be localized anywhere in head or spread throughout head, but is most often focused in forehead; pain may extend from forehead to back of head; face flushed and hot, hands and feet may be cold; pupils may be dilated; often used for headaches associated with high fever.

     Bryonia: pain is described as a steady ache, marked sensitivity to motion (even slight motion of head or eyes); pain often in forehead and extending to back of head, or centered over left eye; pain worse by light touch but better from firm pressure; head feels full or heavy; worse in morning; nausea, vomiting and constipation may accompany headache; emotionally irritable and wants to be left alone.

     Gelsemium: pain begins at back of head and extends to rest of head or forehead; may feel like a band or hood is bound tightly around head; headache preceded by dim vision or other visual disturbances; pain may be localized on right side of head; pain aggravated by light, noise, motion and jarring but not affected much by temperature change; better from napping or urinating; person feels dull, tired, heavy and apathetic; eyelids droop and person looks exhausted; not very irritable, but wants to be left alone.

     Iris versicolor: pain felt on one side of forehead, especially the right side; pain preceded or accompanied by dim vision or other eyesight changes; nausea and vomiting, with headache worse after vomiting; pain better by walking in open air; periodically recurring migraines (e.g., every weekend).

     Nux vomica: headaches brought on by overeating, use of alcohol, coffee or other drugs, or missed sleep; overall sick feeling and digestive upset; sour or bitter taste in mouth, queasiness, nausea and/or vomiting, "dry heaves" and/or gas; also for headache from mental over-exertion, cold air or cold wind; worse in morning, especially on first waking; worse motion, but shaking the head is especially painful; sound of footsteps is especially #irritating; pain better from wrapping up head or being in a warm room, or from a nap if allowed to finish it; very irritable.

     Sanguinaria: especially noted for pain beginning in back of head and extending to and settling over right eye or in right side of head; pain is sharp, splitting, knife-like and sometimes throbbing; nausea and vomiting at height of pain, pain better after vomiting; worse motion, better sleep and firm pressure; headaches may recur in consistent pattern.

     Spigelia: stitching, burning and pulsating pain, usually frontal and often left side; better from lying with head propped up; worse from stooping, motion, noise and cold stormy weather; washing with cold water may feel good, but pain usually worse after; head pain made worse from warmth and temporarily better from cold; headache with stiff neck and shoulders which make motion very painful; may have severe pain in and around eyes, extending deep into sockets.

Limits of home care

Get medical care immediately:

  • for any very severe headache, especially if it is unusual for you
  • for headache accompanied by stiff neck or high fever
  • for any headache that occurs after a head injury

Get medical care today:

  • the first time you have a headache preceded or accompanied by visual disturbances, weakness of one side or part of the body, speech disorders, or dizziness. If you have had these symptoms previously but their pattern has changed significantly, call or see your practitioner.
  • for a headache lasting more than three or four days, even if mild (a call to your practitioner may be enough).
  • if a headache begins while you're taking medicine, including birth control pills.

See your practitioner soon:

  • for headaches that recur frequently, even if mild.
  • for headaches that are consistently worse in the morning or on waking.

* A good resource for in-depth study of the repertory is A Tutorial and Workbook for the Homeopathic Repertory along with the Solution Guide for the workbook, by Karen B. Allen, RSHom(NA), CCH.