Look out! Here comes a headache!
Most of us have experienced the pain and inconvenience associated with headaches and migraines at some point in our lives. Oftentimes, it causes us to be less productive or entirely unable to perform daily tasks.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, 1 in 10 people suffer from migraines. That is approximately 1 billion people worldwide.
So what are headaches and migraines, and how can we lessen the effect they have on our lives? June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, a great opportunity to learn more about their causes and prevention.
The Migraine Trust breaks headaches down into two categories: primary and secondary disorders. Primary disorders include migraines, tension and cluster headaches. Secondary disorders are a result of external factors, such as a head injury, sinuses or stroke. All headaches are not created equal and can vary in severity, duration and cause.
The National Headache Foundation lists various types of primary and secondary disorder headaches, which include allergy, caffeine-withdrawal, cluster, eye-strain, depression and sinus headaches. Recognizing the type of headache you have will help you choose the most effective treatment plan.
Migraines are a more severe type of headache, usually accompanied by unique symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise. Migraines can last anywhere from four to 72 hours depending on the severity. The Migraine Research Foundation highlights the fact that migraines tend to be hereditary; 90 percent of sufferers possess a family history of migraines.
Migraine sufferers typically have “trigger factors” that can spur on an attack. These are mostly attributed to lifestyle and hormonal changes. The Mayo Clinic lists a few migraine triggers, including eating too much processed or salty food, stress, changes in sleep cycles, environmental changes and physical exertion.
Medication, whether prescribed or over the counter, is one of the most common approaches to alleviate headache pain. Because using medication on a regular basis can have serious side effects, it is important to understand what it is and how to use it. The Mayo Clinic cites two types of medications to treat migraines: pain-relieving medications and preventive medications.
Pain-relieving medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, are taken during a headache or migraine attack and are meant to ease or stop symptoms. While these will help with mild migraines and headaches, it is important to note that overusing these types of medications can have adverse effects. The Migraine Trust says that if you take acute pain-relief medication more than 10 days a month, the medicine can actually cause medication-overuse headaches, in which the medications start causing pain instead of relieving it.
Preventive medications are usually prescribed by a doctor and are taken on a regular basis before a migraine to lessen the frequency and severity of attacks. Qualifications for preventative medications (according to the Mayo Clinic) include four or more debilitating attacks a month, attacks lasting longer than 12 hours, pain relievers not helping or prolonged migraine symptoms. These medications can also have serious side effects, so speak to your doctor if you think you may qualify for this type of treatment.
If you are looking for an alternative to taking pain-relieving medication, the Mayo Clinic lists some alternatives, such as acupuncture and massage therapy.
According to the Headache Foundation, stress is one of the most common causes of headaches and migraines. Learning how to cope with stress can reduce some types of headaches. The Mayo Clinic suggests that you identify your causes of stress and find ways to handle them. Techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation and exercise are all cited as ways to relieve stress.
In addition to reducing stress, it is essential to simply take care of yourself. Developing a regular sleep schedule, drinking enough water, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can all play a part in alleviating headache and migraine pain.
Taking consistent care of your physical and emotional well-being is another way to reduce headache frequency without medication.
It is important to understand the underlying causes, or “triggers,” of your headaches. The National Headache Foundation recommends keeping a diary of when you have a headache or migraine. List any foods eaten or activities performed leading up to the attack so you can see what triggers your headaches. Common patterns, such as a headache after physical exertion or eating certain foods, may reveal a trigger. Removing potential triggers may help reduce the frequency of your headaches. Taking this diary to your doctor will allow your physician to confirm triggers, better diagnose the type of headache and develop a treatment plan that is right for you.
While it can be tempting to self-diagnose your headache, it is important to consult your doctor before beginning any kind of treatment plan. The National Headache Foundation recommends you seek medical attention immediately if: you are having the worst headache ever; the pain lasts more than 72 hours with less than a solid four-hour pain-free period; you experience loss of vision, consciousness or uncontrollable vomiting; or you develop abnormal symptoms that concern you. These could be a sign of a more serious problem.
With the right plan in place, you can dodge some of the pain caused by headaches.
Always consult your doctor before starting any new treatment, exercise program or diet. A health care professional will be able to help you properly decide what kind of treatment will be most beneficial for your individual needs.