You’ve been there before — you wake up and immediately feel the pulsing in your head, you get to work and can feel the pounding pressure mounting as you move between looking at your computer screen and meetings, you’re gearing up for a fun day out with your kids but you cringe as the pain in your head magnifies with every shout of excitement.
June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month and the National Headache Foundation wants you to know you are not alone. Nearly 40 million Americans experience migraine and the World Health Organization lists headache disease as the third leading cause of productivity loss due to disability.
“People often underestimate the pain they experience and think their only choice is to endure,” said Dr. Seymour Diamond, executive chair and founder of the National Headache Foundation and Director Emeritus and Founder of the Diamond Headache Clinic. “There is nothing normal about pain in your head, yet even today after treating headache and migraine for over 60 years, I still see doctors dismissing their patients’ symptoms.”
It can be easy to dismiss a headache as normal, but normal shouldn’t be confused with common. Headaches can also be caused by your daily habits that may be easily removed from your routine or can help your doctor develop a treatment plan.
Know your headache and migraine triggers
- Food is one of the more common triggers, from smoked foods to alcohol and avocados, that is often overlooked. Keep a food journal to see if you can identify patterns and triggers
- Weather changes, including high- and low-pressure systems
- For women, menstruation and hormone fluctuations or imbalance
- Screen time
- Stress and a compromised sleep schedule
Headaches or uncharacteristic migraine symptoms can indicate you need medical attention. People are often reluctant to call their healthcare provider or go to the ER because they don’t want to arrive only to learn that nothing out of the ordinary is wrong.
Diamond advises, “If your symptoms are out of the ordinary for you, absolutely seek medical attention from a specialist and get help. Your headache or migraine should not keep you from living your life to its fullest.”
Common signs that you should seek medical help for your headaches
- You have more than the occasional headache (more than twice a week)
- Your headache persists, and continues to get worse or won’t stop
- Your headaches interfere with your normal activities of daily life
- You find yourself taking pain relievers more than two days a week
- You take over-the-counter medications for headache relief, but the recommended dosage is not adequate
Headache and migraine are serious conditions and you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, or to seek out a certified headache expert: www.headaches.org/resources/healthcare-provider-finder. Most patients want their healthcare providers to be prepared and engaged when answering questions and be willing to educate them about their treatment options. On the other hand, healthcare providers often think that what matters most to their patients is expressing understanding and compassion. Diamond emphasized both a patient and their healthcare provider need to communicate clearly to effectively treat the headache or migraine.
Simple steps you can take to effectively communicate your concerns and needs with your healthcare provider include: staying focused on the most important questions you have, providing a daily record of your symptoms, sharing your concerns and reactions, and asking questions. After consulting with you to best understand your personal experience and needs, your doctor may recommend a combination of treatments that may or may not include:
- Pharmaceutical therapy
- Massage therapy
- Diet changes
- Sleep changes
- Journaling symptoms
- Biofeedback therapy
The debilitating effects of headache and migraine don’t have to be part of your regular routine. Understanding your condition, knowing your triggers and having an honest conversation with your healthcare provider can help you get back to living your life.
For more information about headache and migraine or to find help, visit: www.headaches.org.