Heading Away from Brain Pain

Migraines are headaches of varying intensity and affect different areas of the brain from person to person. Patients usually describe the pain as “throbbing” or “pulsing” and can be accompanied by visual changes (auras), nausea, vomiting, weakness or loss of mobility in limbs, inability to communicate, and extreme sensitivity to light. Migraine attacks may last for several hours or days. Severe migraines may interfere with a patient’s ability to participate in daily tasks. These attacks can be chronic for some patients and may flare on a regular basis.

While the exact cause of migraines is still under investigation, researchers believe it is due to a combination of genetic variances and environmental triggers. Enlarged or dilated blood vessels in the brain are a common trigger for headaches and migraines. Patients may experience more frequent or intense migraines when they are stressed, overexert themselves, eat certain foods, or when barometric pressure changes occur in the area they live. Science has found that dysfunction in hormones and neurotransmitters may also play a role in the occurrence of migraines.

The use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for acute migraines has been fairly studied over the years. A treatment in a hyperbaric chamber during a migraine has been clinically shown to quickly alleviate symptoms for many patients. The increased pressure from a treatment may act similarly to migraine medications by causing vasoconstriction in the brain, stopping the excessive blood flow thought to trigger symptoms. Current evidence as to whether hyperbaric therapy can prevent or lessen migraine attacks is mostly anecdotal. It is believed that hyperbaric therapy’s proven effectiveness at positively influencing 8,101 genes may play a role in balancing inflammation and hormone regulation within the brain, potentially lessening migraine occurrences.

Woman sitting against wall holding cup of tea. Migraines

Migraine and Hyperbarics: Studies, Articles and Videos

Hyperbaric Oxygen in the Treatment of Migraine with Aura


Cephalalgia is one of the most common medical complaints and the search continues for relief. Early treatments for migraine included inhalation of 100% oxygen. It has been theorized that the increased levels of oxygen in the blood act as an alpha-adrenergic agent to alleviate headache pain through vasoconstriction and local metabolic effects. The presence of muscle tenderness during some migraine headaches has also been established. The purpose of this study was to document relief of cephalalgia through use of a visual analog pain scale, algometry, and manual palpation. Female subjects with confirmed migraine were randomly assigned to begin with either the control (100% oxygen, no pressure) or hyperbaric treatment (100% oxygen, pressure). Manual palpation and algometry of 10 sites were done, bilaterally, by a trained specialist. Pain was evaluated with a visual analog scale. Resolution of tenderness and edema following both treatments was observable by manual palpation while algometry showed no differences between the two. Subjective pain was significantly decreased following hyperbaric oxygen treatment but not following the control treatment. Results suggest that hyperbaric oxygen treatment reduces migraine headache pain and that the patient’s subjective assessment was the best indicator of relief.

Woman suffering from migraine headache

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A Preliminary Report on Hyperbaric Oxygen in the Relief of Migraine Headache
Daniel E. Myers DDS, MS Roy A. Myers MDFirst published: April 1995


Oxygen inhalation was early advocated as a treatment for migraine headache. It has been theorized that the efficacy of raising blood oxygen levels in vascular headache is mediated by vasoconstriction and metabolic effects. Hyperbaric oxygen can provide a much greater level of blood oxygenation than can provide a much greater level of blood oxygenation than normobaric oxygen, and in recent studies it has been used in the treatment of cluster headache. The purpose of this study was to compare the effects of hyperbaric oxygen and normobaric oxygen in migraine. Twenty migraineurs were divided randomly into two groups and studied in a hyperbaric chamber during a typical headache attack. Global headache severity was measured by a verbal descriptor scale before and after exposure to oxygen. One group received 100% oxygen at 1 atmosphere of pressure (normobaric) while the other received 100% oxygen at 2 atmospheres of pressure (hyperbaric). One of the 10 patients in the normobaric group achieved significant relief of headache symptoms, while 9 of 10 in the hyperbaric group found relief. Based on a chi-square test, this difference is significant at the P < .005 level. Those patients who did not find significant relief from normobaric oxygen were given hyperbaric oxygen as above. All nine found significant relief. The results suggest that hyperbaric (but not normobaric) oxygen may be useful in the abortive management of migraine headache. Possibilities for the mechanism of this effect, in addition to vasoconstriction, include an increase in the rate of energy-producing and neurotransmitter-related metabolic reactions in the brain which require molecular oxygen.

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