When is a Headache More than a HeadacheStateman Journal Living Well - May 2015
Few common maladies can derail your day quite like a headache. Though painful and inconvenient, sinus and tension headaches are generally easily managed with over-the-counter remedies, rest and increasing one's water intake. But when a headache lasts for hours or days and seriously affects one's quality of life, it becomes clear: All headaches are not created equal.
According to Migraine Research Foundation, about 18% of American women and 6% of men suffer from migraine headaches, which can last from several hours to several days. Pain can be moderate to severe, as in other types of headaches, but migraines are marked by additional symptoms.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain on one side of the head
- Sensitivity to light and/or sound
- Worsened by activity
The exact causes of migraines are unknown, but it is generally regarded that migraine sufferers have genetic predisposition to specific triggers.
- Food triggers
- Menstrual cycle and hormonal changes
- Bright or flashing lights
- Stress or fatigue
"I recommend patients keep a headache journal to track the food and environment that were encountered just before a migraine occurs," says Tyson Graves, RN. " This can help someone identify and limit their specific triggers."
While migraine food triggers are different for everyone, there are some common culprits.
- Aged or fermented cheese
- Nuts and citrus fruit
- Sulfites in beer, red wine, dried fruits and processed foods
- Nitrates contained in cured, smoked, pickled or canned meats
- Food additives such as MSG and yeast extract
- Artificial sweeteners
Patients that have severe or recurring headaches should talk to their primary care provider to rule out migraine or other conditions, says Tyson Graves, RN. While migraines cannot be cured, knowing one's triggers can help avoid them or lessen their duration.
Preventive medications can be prescribed in some cases – a daily medication to help stave off migraine occurrence. And in the event of an acute migraine attack, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may alleviate mild symptoms.
For migraine sufferers, it's also a good idea to have an emergency plan. "If the pain becomes unbearable, often after a prolonged time, patients often seek help in the emergency room," says Tyson Graves, RN. Emergency departments are equipped to rule out life-threatening conditions and to help reduce immediate suffering. Treatment received in an emergency situation will not offer long-term relief.
"If you are a migraine sufferer, it's best to have a relationship with a provider that specializes in migraine care," says Tyson Graves, RN. "Know your triggers and discuss preventive medication options with your provider, including a rescue medication."
"For migraine disorder, the best medication is prevention."