Severe headaches surprisingly common, but treatment methods are improving

Severe headaches surprisingly common, but treatment methods are improving

The doctors cited hydration, getting enough sleep and exercise, avoiding processed foods, and managing stress as some of the most effective tools to avoid triggering both types of headaches.

“I often recommend magnesium and vitamin B2 as natural supplements to help with migraines as well,” Mays said.

Hammes said headache sufferers might also get some relief from manual manipulation of muscles and joints around the shoulders and neck.

This works “especially well in tension headaches,” according to Hammes, but can also help with migraines when there is a structural cause (i.e. neck or head trauma) related to the migraines.

“I usually tell my patients to try osteopathic manipulation three times before they say that it hasn’t helped at all or that there’s no difference,” she said.

Mays advises against heavy reliance on pain-relief medication like ibuprofen that can compound the problem by causing “medication overuse” headaches.

“If you’re using these medicines twice a week or more to treat headaches, you should see your physician,” she said.

Doctors can prescribe specialty treatments that are taken at the onset of a migraine, for example, or try to prevent them entirely with blood pressure-lowering medicines, anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants and even Botox injections. Mays is especially excited about CGRP antagonists, a new class of therapies that work by disrupting pain-inducing inflammation in the brain, having seen its positive impact firsthand.

“I had one patient who had been disabled by headaches for years. She limited what she would do. She never went to college, never had family, and she has seen amazing progress since we started her on one of these CGRP therapies,” Mays said. “But they come at a huge expense.”

Hammes tells her regular headache sufferers to begin with journaling their experience so they can isolate what may be contributing to the onset. If you are waking up with a headaches, maybe your pillow is too big or small or your CPAP machine straps are too tights. If it’s starting after a long day of classes or work, maybe your messenger bag or backpack is too heavy or your computer screen is too low.

Identifying patterns can help physicians assess your headache causes and recommend possible interventions.

“If patients don’t have a very specific therapy that’s designed for their headache type, they can really become dissatisfied,” Mays said, “and so that’s where it’s helpful to seek someone that you know has knowledge about management for the type of headache you are experiencing.”

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