It’s important to find out whether your recurring headaches are migraines and what both you and your doctor can do to help prevent and treat them.
Spending too much time disabled by headaches? You are not alone.More than 36 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches, and if you’re one of them, there are options to lessen how much they interfere with your life — including prescription and non-prescription medications and headache prevention options.
By Brian Loftus, M.D.
Step 1: Get the Correct Diagnosis. More than 90 percent of patients who have a six-month history of intermittent disabling headaches have migraine headaches, and of the 36 million Americans who have migraines, only 50 percent have been properly diagnosed. (Most have been misdiagnosed as sinus headaches or tension headaches.) If you want to try to figure out what type of headaches you are having, try iHeadache (available online or as an app). iHeadache is easy to use — even while having a migraine. You just record your maximum pain intensity and answer questions about your symptoms. The software will analyze each of your headaches to determine whether it meets criteria for a migraine. You can also track info such as medications taken, triggers, duration and more.
Step 2: Consider Lifestyle Changes. Eliminate caffeine, artificial sweeteners, chocolate and alcohol from your diet. Set a regular sleep/wake cycle. Do not skip meals. After getting a baseline of your headache frequency and pain intensity, track other triggers to see if any of them could be causing your headaches.
Step 3: Consider Treatments with your physician. When treating migraines, headache specialists can choose from among about seven generic oral migraine preventative medications or perform any of more than five in-office medical procedures designed for long term migraine prevention. Many also offer in-office “headache rescue room services” that can provide an infusion of relief while you are having a severe headache to achieve a faster response than oral medications (plus, they are typically much cheaper than visiting an emergency room). Finding a headache specialist in your area is not be hard; just consult a national or regional headache society. To find a specialist to fit your needs, inquire about their in-office procedures, in-office rescue services, and how often the provider attends a headache-oriented scientific meeting prior to scheduling an appointment.
Brian Loftus, MD, is Board Certified in Neurology and Headache Medicine and one of the founding members of the Southern Headache Society (SHS).