Migraine is a common neurologic syndrome characterized by severe headache, nausea, vomiting, and hypersensitivity to lights and sounds. Other common symptoms include chills, sweating, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, numbness or tingling, and difficulty speaking or concentrating. Some patients experience warning signs, such as visual disturbances or aura, a few minutes or a whole day before an attack, which may last 4 to 72 hours.
The National Headache Foundation estimates that 28 million Americans suffer from migraines. Women are affected more than men, and people of all ages can fall victim to chronic headaches. Many people experience their first migraine during adolescence or young adulthood.
The precise causes and mechanisms of migraine are unknown. Attacks originate with chemical changes in the brain and nervous system and progress into painful restrictions in blood flow. Certain tastes, odors, lights, noises, and physical or emotional stress may trigger migraine.
Persons who may benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) are those whose migraines have more of a vascular origin (induced either by imbalance of chemicals or abnormal blood flow to a particular brain area) or those who have side effects or contraindications to standard drug therapy.
HBOT has been shown to change the amount of blood flow in the brain during migraine episodes. Additionally, HBOT can favorably alter some of the chemical levels that induce migraines (serotonin and substance P). Both published and unpublished studies show that HBOT is effective in aborting a migraine headache in 80% of patients within 40 minutes of treatment. Effedal et al 2004 found that prophylactic use of HBOT to prevent headaches can reduce the number of headaches.