Let’s talk headaches. Most people get headaches—up to 75% of 18-65 year olds reported a headache in the past year, for many different reasons. Headaches cost about $17,000,000,000 (yes, billion) in resources a year—between medications, doctors’ visits, time away from work.
Dehydration is one of the most common causes for a headache. My first suggestion when someone tells me they have a headache is to go drink a glass of water—none of us drink enough of that in a day! But unfortunately, for many people, water isn’t going to fix anything.
So let’s break them down:
Tension headaches: the most common kind, affecting up to 70% of people. Usually stress related. Mental, emotional and physical stress can lead to tension headaches. Most people can help these with water, a cup of coffee, some Tylenol or Aleve. These are usually in the temple area and go away pretty easily.
Cluster Headaches: the least common type. These are usually very painful, usually very short and happen numerous times a day. May times focused behind the eye and causing redness and tearing in that eye. Oxygen can help these
Migraine Headaches: this is what will drag you to the doctors. The knock-down, drag out headache that can lay you up for hours to days. Some people will have an aura (something that precedes the headache—sounds, smell, flashing lights, etc), some will not. These are more common in young women as they are often hormone driven. Usually one sided and pulsating.
Great, now that we know basically everyone is affected by these—what can be done?
So there are two ways to treat headaches (typically these are used for migraines, though they have been shown to help with most all headache)
1. When they happen (Abortive therapy)
2. Trying to prevent them from occurring (Preventative therapy)
Over the counter pain relievers, Tylenol, Ibuprofen can be a great help and are a good start. Excedrin is also a good option, as it contains caffeine (which causes the blood vessels that have enlarged to constrict back to their normal size). Triptans (such as imitrex) are prescription medications to help stop a headache once it has started.
Natural supplements that help prevent headaches include magnesium (400-500mg per day) and CoQ-10 (100-300mg daily. Prescription medications include topiramate, TCA antidepressants (such as amitriptyline) and beta-blockers (such as propranolol). There are biologic options that are injections (Amovig) and Botox injections—which you would want to talk to a neurologist about.
Primary Care Physicians are going to be able to help with migraines—most of the time. Though sometimes they will want you to see a neurologist as, rarely, headaches can actually mean something more.
So if you suffer for more than 4 headaches a month, or your headaches last for days at a time, please talk to your doctor. We have a lot of options to help decrease their occurrence and get you feeling better!
...until next time, IrishDoc07