Among the many physiological and environmental conditions believed to cause migraines, decreased oxygen levels and restricted blood flow to the brain are two of the most-often cited by medical researchers. In Denmark, researchers have been studying the oxygen-diminishing effect caused by carbon monoxide, which is abundantly found in the exhaust of motor vehicles, as well as in cigarette smoke and barbecue pit fires.
Danish volunteers are inhaling low levels of carbon monoxi and then submitting to brains scans to assess the impact on circulation. Oxygen levels and the incidence of headaches are also being monitored in this study, and the preliminary results indicate that air quality in metropolitan areas may be exacerbating migraine disease in some patients.
Until now, migraine researchers have not fully related blood flow in the brain to headache episodes. What is known, however, is that visual auras are definitely tied to lower circulation. Some physicians believe that brain cells become starved for oxygen after the aura phase gives way to the headache, and thus the use of oxygen therapy to treat migraines is supported.
How Oxygen Therapy WorksDuring World War II, Mayo Clinic physicians in Minnesota introduced oxygen therapy to migraine patients at the rate of 6 to 8 liters per minute. While applying this 100 percent oxygen therapy, researchers were pleased to learn that patients were finding substantial relief when their oxygen was delivered during the aura phase.
The effect of oxygen therapy on brain function suggests that the rush of blood flow between the aura and headache phases is what actually causes the pain. Oxygen therapy would lower circulation in the brain to a level that does not cause headaches.
Therapeutic Oxygen DeliveryThere are two high-flow oxygen delivery methods for migraine patients:
- Hyperbaric - Patients enter an enclosed chamber where 100 percent oxygen flows freely
- Normobaric - Patients get their oxygen delivered via a face mask
The oxygen administered for therapeutic purposes usually flows at the rate of seven liters per minute. A single session may last between 10 to 20 minutes; for this reason, some patients are able to keep an oxygen tank and mask set up at home since they therapy is more effective at the onset of a visual aura.
Unfortunately, not all chronic migraine patients get relief from oxygen therapy. In fact, many of the patients who do find relief do not actually suffer from migraines but rather suffer from cluster headaches that may have disappeared on their own anyway.
Although oxygen therapy has virtually no side effects, it is not considered to be very practical. Patients who spend a lot of time at home are the best candidates, but this treatment is mostly symptomatic and of acute response. Preventative treatment strategies should not be abandoned by migraine patients who choose to undergo oxygen therapy.
*Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net