Although Western medicine may not clearly link the two, headaches can be related to your liver’s health. If a doctor’s prescription has little effect on your head pain, a different tactic may be in order.
by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
As one of the most common symptoms associated with any number of ailments, most people have had a headache at some point in their life. When occurring with liver disease, a headache can indicate any number of different imbalances in the body. Depending on the location and characteristics of the headache, different treatment approaches may be helpful.
Since headaches can signal a serious condition such as an aneurysm, meningitis or brain tumor, it is best that a physician evaluate any new, severe, high fever-related or unusual pain in the head. Western medical doctors typically evaluate headaches by categories such as: migraine, cluster, stress, tension, vascular, dehydration and sinus. While these categorical approaches are very useful and can lead to quick treatment and relief, their use is limited. For headaches that have been evaluated by, but cannot be relieved by Western medicine, alternative approaches may help reduce the pain of some liver-related headaches.
By differentiating between the specifics of pain and its accompanying symptoms, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) serves as a useful guide to distinguish between headache types. Known as pattern differentiation, each diagnosed imbalance inherently suggests a route for improvement. By aiming for balancing the causative disharmony, TCM has been known for centuries to help those suffering from headaches.
Before a TCM practitioner formulates a treatment approach, some of the differentiating factors of a headache needing evaluation include:
· Location – Where in the head is the pain?
· Type of pain and severity – Is it dull and persistent or sharp and occasional?
· Relationship to emotion – Do strong emotions precede the pain?
· Temperature – Does the head feel particularly hot or cold when the headache surfaces?
· Aggravators and alleviators – What makes the pain feel better or worse?
TCM Headache Location and Descriptions
According to TCM theory, the seven most common headache locations and their common associations are:
1. Vertex – [Top of the head.] Because the liver channel’s internal branch reaches the top of the head, the most frequent cause of a vertex headache is related to a liver imbalance. If this headache has a dull character and improves with rest, then it is due to a deficient imbalance. If this headache is sharp and does not improve with rest, then it is likely due to liver energy rising upwards.
2. Temporal – [On the side of the head, next to the eyes.] This area of the head is traversed by the gallbladder channel, the complementary partner to the liver. A headache in this location is typically sharp and throbbing, and is indicative of liver energy flaring upward.
3. Parietal – [On the side of the head, above the ears.] This area of the head is traversed by the gallbladder channel, the complementary partner to the liver. A headache in this location is typically sharp and throbbing, and is indicative of liver energy flaring upward.
4. Occipital – [The back of the head, just above the neck.] Chronic headaches in the rear of the head are likely due to a kidney energy deficiency, while acute occipital headaches are often related to an external pathogen, such as the common cold.
5. Frontal – [On the forehead, above the eyes.] Headaches above the eyes are usually related to a gastrointestinal imbalance. If the pain is dull, it is likely a weakness of the stomach and spleen, while a sharp pain here typically indicates heat in the stomach. In TCM, a weakness of the stomach often allows dampness or phlegm to build-up, which can cause a heavy, fuzzy sensation in the forehead area.
6. Behind the eyes – A frequent migraine headache location, this location is usually tied to a liver imbalance. Dull pain behind the eyes is due to a weakness of the liver and, if sharp and severe, liver energy rising upward is the culprit.
7. Whole head – [Unable to pinpoint a specific location.] Chronic headaches with an empty feeling around the entire head are usually due to a deficiency of the kidney energy. Acute, severe and sharp whole head pain is often related to the invasion of an external pathogen, like a cold or flu.
According to TCM, three headache locations are typically associated with a liver imbalance. These liver-related locations are:
2. Side of the head (temporal or parietal)
3. Behind the eyes
Some of the conditions that could manifest a liver-related headache include stress, fatigue, hepatitis, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, excessive use of the eyes, toxic overload, cirrhosis and fatty liver disease.