This Issue

Headaches: A universal pain in the neck

Chronic condition may need stronger relief

Relax, take a deep breath …
stop that headache

Help your doctor help you … and keep a headache diary

Q & A

A closer look


Triggers

Although it is not always possible to prevent a headache, it may be possible to reduce its frequency by determining and avoiding what cause it. Triggers are factors that spark a headache. Most triggers arerelated to migraines but may be related to cluster and tension-type headaches as well.

  • Change in the weather, particularly heat and moisture

  • Fatigue

  • Emotional stress

  • Lack of sleep or too much sleep

  • Bright or blinking lights

  • Loud noises

  • Strong smells, such as perfumes

  • Alcohol, particularly red wine

  • Smoking

  • Certain foods — Chocolate, caffeine, aged cheeses, processed meats

Surprising headache triggers

Triggers

Not just any headache!


Most headaches are annoying inconveniences, but some may signal a serious condition — such as meningitis or stroke — that require prompt medical attention. People may complain of the “worst headache ever.”

  • A severe headache with sudden onset

  • Headaches that first develop after the age of 50

  • Headaches that increase with coughing or abrupt movement

  • Persistent headache after a blow to the head

  • Headache pain that feels like an explosion or thunderclap

  • Headache pain that gets worse and won’t go away

  • Headache accompanied by any of these symptoms

    • stiff neck and fever

    • severe pain when bending over

    • decreased alertness or mental confusion

    • persistent, severe vomiting

  • Headaches accompanied by neurological symptoms

    • visual disturbances

    • slurred speech

    • weakness or numbness on one side

    • seizures

Which one is it?

Not just any headache!

Help your doctor help you …
… and keep a headache diary

In order to pinpoint your type of headache, which will help to diagnose and treat it correctly, pay close attention when it surfaces.

Keep track of:

  • the date of each headache
  • the time it started and the time it ended
  • type of pain and intensity on a scale of 1 to 10
  • where the pain is centered
  • foods and beverages you had during the last day
  • amount of sleep and caffeine
  • stress level
  • any sensitivity to light, sound or odors
  • the date of your menstrual cycle if you are female
  • weather conditions
  • type of treatment and its effect
  • your thoughts and actions shortly before the pain began

Discuss any frequent headaches with your doctor, who can recommend appropriate treatment.

Call your doctor immediately if you experience a very severe, sudden, or explosive headache (especially after a head injury or if your headache is accompanied by stiff neck and fever, weakness, or difficulty speaking or seeing, which could signal more serious problems, such as meningitis or stroke).

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A closer look


A contradiction in terms

Do pain relievers treat a headache,
or cause a headache?

Yes

Regular use of pain relievers — including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen — can actually cause headaches. “Rebound” or medication-overuse headaches can occur when the medication is taken more than two to three days a week or more than the recommended dosage. For reasons not fully understood, a drop in the level of drugs in the blood precipitates another headache, which in turn precipitates another dose. The cycle continues resulting in chronic daily headaches with more severe and frequent pain. Rebound headaches can occur with prescription drugs as well.

Help your doctor help you …
… and keep a headache diary

In order to pinpoint your type of headache, which will help to diagnose and treat it correctly, pay close attention when it surfaces.

Keep track of:

  • the date of each headache
  • the time it started and the time it ended
  • type of pain and intensity on a scale of 1 to 10
  • where the pain is centered
  • foods and beverages you had during the last day
  • amount of sleep and caffeine
  • stress level
  • any sensitivity to light, sound or odors
  • the date of your menstrual cycle if you are female
  • weather conditions
  • type of treatment and its effect
  • your thoughts and actions shortly before the pain began

Discuss any frequent headaches with your doctor, who can recommend appropriate treatment.

Call your doctor immediately if you experience a very severe, sudden, or explosive headache (especially after a head injury or if your headache is accompanied by stiff neck and fever, weakness, or difficulty speaking or seeing, which could signal more serious problems, such as meningitis or stroke).