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Got a Headache? Sometimes Less is More.

By Sheryl Kraft

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Headaches. They make me want to scream.

I hate to talk about headaches, because I suffer from them - and usually try to take the focus off of the unpleasant pain, nausea, noise and light sensitivity by denying that I even have one. (Sometimes it works for me. In fact, exercise seems to temporarily take my mind off the pain. While I'm at the gym, the pain usually disappears).

But I've yet to find something that works to cure my headaches. I've tried it all -  various medications, laying in a dark room, cold packs, hot packs; even pressing my fingers so hard into my hand – a technique known as acupressure – that my hand ends up aching even more than my head. And I'm sure I’m not alone in my quest for headache relief: every 10 seconds, someone in the U.S. takes a trip to the ER with a headache or a migraine. In fact, headaches tend to be much more partial to women, too – over 27 million of us lucky ones.

And the fact that my favorite headache doc picked up and moved his office to parts unknown has left me without any professional I truly trust to help. Although, today when I read through Ivanhoe.com’s post about headaches I got to the very end, the part that says "for more information, contactXXX" and there he was – at the Cleveland Clinic. Perhaps he'll be hearing from me – and you, too? (If you have any questions for Dr. Stuart Tepper, please send them to me and I'll be happy to forward them on to him).

I've just about given up on medication, and have almost – but not quite -  come to peace with the fact that I have to just wait it out, sometimes for as long as 2 or 3 days. But lots of people don’t do this. In their desperation to get rid of the pain or on the advice of their docs, they often mix their prescription drugs with over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol or Advil. What follows is not what they intended – their headaches return after just a few hours. Too many medications taken at one time backfires. Instead of curing the pain, it can cause it, making the headache much, much worse.

Although cutting off all medications – many times the treatment for this problem – won't fully cure patients of their acute migraines, it can lessen their severity and frequency. If this is you, check with your doctor to see if what you are taking is absolutely necessary.

This Matters> Here’s a head's up to those of you who might be unsure of when a headache warrants a call to your doc:

  • ·       You usually have two or more headaches a week
  • ·       You take a pain reliever for your headaches every day or almost every day
  • ·       You need more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter pain remedies to relieve your headaches
  • ·       Your headache pattern changes
  • ·       Your headaches are getting worse


If your headache is worse than all that, here’s when you should hightail it to the ER or doctor's office. If your headache:

  • ·       Is sudden and severe
  • ·       Is combined with a fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking
  • ·       Follows a head injury
  • ·       Gets worse despite rest and pain medication


Want to learn more?

Info from the Migraine Research Foundation http://www.migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine.html

To do a migraine self-assessment, click here http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache/MI00007

Read what the folks at healthywomen.org have to say http://healthywomen.org/condition/migraine

Headache-busting helpers http://healthywomen.org/content/article/headache-help-without-drugstore

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This is great info. Once in a while I get a really bad one and usually end up taking Tylenol and then Advil and I think you're right that it actually makes it worse or come back faster.

Maybe just stick with one of those? Good luck - hope it works.

This sounds like an incredibly frustrating issue to have. I've recently become aware that many many people suffer from chronic migraines. Such an intense problem.

Sounds like you are one of the headache-free lucky ones! (what's your secret?)

I've only had migraines a few times in my life, but I have chronic, low grade headaches all the time. Staying hydrated seems to help, but so far no doctor has been able to figure out why.

Sorry to hear about those nagging headaches, Kris. Hope you're able to figure them out soon. They can wear on you, I know..

My husband has been having terrible headaches. Strong coffee, lying down, ice water, more sleep all seem to help.

Yes - coffee. Some people swear by it, but unfortunately it's never helped for me.

I felt lucky that I escaped my mother's migraines. But now I have headaches of an indeterminate cause--3 or 4 times a day, 1/2 to 1 hours at a time. Neurologists have taken all the pictures of what is inside my skull (contrary to popular opinion, there IS something in there) and thrown various medications at the headache to see what sticks.

So migraines are terrible, but at least they are treatable for most people.

That's a lot of headaches, Vera. Hpping that you find something that helps your pesky headaches.

Good to know I'm on the right track. I get migraines now and then, and pretty much just wait it out. The most annoying thing is not being able to see for about 20 minutes - usually when I'm on deadline, of course.

I'm with you on the not being able to see thing - annoying, to say the least. Especially when you're caught driving in the car!

I have a weird history with this. About three different times in my life -- under periods of great stress -- I've had the auras that precede migraines, but never the actual headache. But God, those auras are creepy -- watching fireworks spread across your field of vision as you slowly go blind.

Ruth - I have auras, too. The first time it happened I was about 16 and knew nothing about it. Then my mom told me she gets them and what they were. Crazy, psychedelic patterns, zig-zag lines, and a big blind spot. Awful (especially when they happen when you're driving).

Thankfully, I've never had too many headaches. And mine seem to go away quickly with a little OTC attention. I have had close friends though who've battled migraines for years--I can't imagine.

For a while I was doing this thing that my chiropractor recommended which basically involved re-educating the curve of my cervical spine. Every night I'd lie in this contraction that pulled my head back. It was dorky looking and feeling, but I had zero headaches when I was doing this regularly. Now I've neglected it and my headaches are back.

I find sometimes doing chin tucks does help; that must be akin to the contraption your chiropractor gave you. BAck to it~!

Thanks for this - my sister gets frequent (and completely incapacitating) migraines, so I'm passing it along to her. Poor kid. It's good to know she's treating them correctly.

Ouch. I can sympathize with your poor sister.

Luckily I don't have too many headaches, but when I get a zinger, it really puts me out of commission. Interested in seeing what Dr. Tepper recommends.

You are very fortunate not to get too many of these nasty things visiting you. May it rub off on me :)

I get all types. I get them all the time. I could be an honorary neurologist with all the info I've learned. This started when I was very young (preteen) and my son has inherited the same problem.

It bothers me that my children will grow up remembering all the days that mom was walking around with ice packs on her head begging them to please be quieter.

Yes, my sons inherited my headaches, too. But it looks like they did eventually outgrow them - hoping yours does, too.

Headaches have been a constant problem post stroke. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when I get them or not. Sadly, just something I have to live with as best I can.

That's a lot to deal with. Hopefully they will soon subside and you'll be headache-free. That has to be very difficult.

Lack of food, water, or sleep are the biggest culprit for my headaches, and for many others I suspect too, yes?

Oh, yes, those "lacks" can certainly bring on a pounding head, I agree.

I relate headaches to stress. My daughter who is 26 was going through some stress from her job and then she had huge headaches. As soon as her project was over, the headaches disappeared. Its amazing what stress can do to the body.

Indeed, stress can certainly bring on a monster headache - not to mention so many other body ills.


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