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Worldwide, headache disorders are considered one of the most common — yet under-treated — disorders of the nervous system.
“Headache is any pain affecting the head, upper face or upper neck. Headaches are called ‘primary’ when they arise from biological changes within the brain itself... These include migraine headaches, tension-type headaches, and cluster headaches.” - Robert Kaniecki , Director of the UPMC Headache Center in Pittsburgh
Migraine-induced headaches cause additional symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light and noise, fatigue, visual disturbances and more.
According to Dr. Kaniecki, people may also experience “secondary” headaches if there is another underlying illness or cause for the headache.
A 2018 study found that one in six people in the U.S. reported having a migraine or severe headache over a 3-month period.
What do you do to relieve your headache
Below are some of the things neurologists personally do when experiencing a headache, and why these go-to strategies work
1. Find a Quiet, Calming Space
“If I have a headache, I rest or lie down for as long as I can, and it doesn’t depend on the time of day..With migraines in particular, people usually find that they have to lie down in a quiet, dark room.”
- Faye Begeti , Neurology doctor and neuroscientist in the U.K.
2. Use Relaxing Distractions
Dr. Burstein, utilizes relaxing distractions when he can’t power nap in the workplace.
“As contrary as it may sound, walking can be helpful and reading,” -- Rami Burstein, Professor of Anesthesia and Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School
Understanding your headache triggers can serve as both a preventative and in-the-moment approach to address the pain.
“Most of my migraine attacks are visually triggered or are triggered when I am ambivalent or worried about a decision or situation. The latter is a bit harder to control, but it’s fascinating to recognize..Red wine can be a trigger for me, so I am careful about not having more than a few ounces.” - Jan Lewis Brandes,Director and founder of the Nashville Neuroscience Group
Sleep disturbances is also a common headache trigger. Contrary to what most believe that headaches are caused by a lack of sleep but Dr. Begeti explained that sticking to a consistent sleep schedule may be more important than the length of sleep you get every night.
“This is something that I didn’t know when I was at university, so I would reliably have a headache every single Saturday after staying up late the day before, and sleeping in on the weekend,” - Dr. Begeti
As crazy as it sounds some headaches can be relieved by simply drinking some water. This is call a dehydration headache. This happens to some people when they don’t drink enough water.
More scientific research needs to be done to prove with certainty that dehydration causes headaches as there are lots of theories that need to be explored.
One of which is that when we are dehydrated,our brain temporarily contract from fluid loss causing it to slightly pull away from the skull,causing pain which results to a headache.Once rehydrated,the brain returns to its usual state,relieving the headache
The medical community however does have a formal classification for hangover headaches, which are partially caused by dehydration.
Some of the known symptoms of dehydration headache (reported by research respondents) are:
Since it is a dehydration headache it only makes sense that it can be remedied by drinking water.
Kristina Lopez, an assistant professor at the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and headache specialist, said that her headaches are typically a signifier that she needs to up her hydration.
“I finally took my own advice and started getting a consistent eight hours of sleep and drinking more water,” Lopez said. “It’s wild how much better I feel.” It’s a “cheap and safe preventative and as-needed treatment strategy.” -Dr. Lopez
Believe it or not caffeine can actually be a headache remedy. According to Dr. Brandes drinking a cup of coffee is the first step she takes when combatting a migraine attack, followed by drinking a glass of water and taking medication.
Caffeine causes blood vessels to narrow and restricts blood flow around the brain, which can relieve pain.
However consuming caffeine on the regular may lead to withdrawal headaches if you suddenly stop drinking your caffeine-laced drink.
A personal tip from Dr. Kanieki is to break snacks and meals into 5 to 6 portions throughout the day.
Low blood sugar may exacerbate headache pain and migraine symptoms. Try swapping up your meal times or breaking down bigger meals into smaller parts that you eat intermittently.
Depending on the severity of her headache, Dr. Begeti will take Over-The-Counter(OTC) pain relievers like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aka NSAIDs) or acetaminophen. However, be sure to keep track of the number of pain relievers you take: Dr. Begeti limits her monthly intake of OTC pain meds to under 10 days a month to avoid medication-overuse headaches.
“I get migraine attacks and will take a triptan — an as-needed migraine pain medication — and a nausea medication when I feel an episode coming on,” - Dr. Lopez.
If you are experiencing more severe pain or symptoms, it may be worth a trip to the neurologist to see if you could benefit from prescription medication and to make sure that your headache is nothing to worry about.
“Sometimes there are no notable triggers to headaches.. A big part of why people get headaches is due to genetics, and I see headaches that run in families.” -- Dr. Begeti
Headache pain can range from mild to debilitating. Try these neurologist-approved strategies until you find what works for you. Establishing a unique, at-home routine is vital to treating these conditions effectively.
“It’s important to listen to your body. I find that a headache may resolve if I do that and it certainly prevents it from getting worse,” -- Dr. Begeti
Jack of all people-related trades, master of none. Majored in Psychology, Customer Service Assoc for a few Years, HR Officer for 4, Manager and ESL Teacher for over 11 yrs now, an artist since birth.
Because we all get headaches sometimes
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