It’s Your Life, Not Pain’s: How to Properly Manage Chronic Headache and Migraine
If you suffer from chronic headache or migraine, you know that it can make day-to-day life unpredictable. What’s worse is that the various symptoms can be disabling, affecting both your home life and your work life.
All headaches and migraines should be treated, often with over-the-counter pain killers or supplements. However, if they’re chronic in nature, meaning symptoms occur 15 or more days per month, the toll they take on our bodies and minds is more extreme, requiring a more distinct and appropriate treatment.
In support of National Headache and Migraine Awareness Month in June, Dr. Loretta Mueller, Director of the Headache Center at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, explains more about the symptoms, health impacts, and different treatment options available.
“Chronic headache or migraine is sometimes a lifelong condition, but other times, onsets at any given age and goes away within a few years,” explained Dr. Mueller. “When we treat patients with chronic headache or migraine, we ensure the patient regains their functionality and goes pain-free. We can’t necessarily cure the headache or migraine, but we can manage them the best we can.”
Common symptoms of chronic headache and migraine include: throbbing pain – either unilateral (in one area of the head/face) or bilateral (anywhere in the head/face) – nausea and/or vomiting, irritability, and sensitivity to bright lights or loud noises.
External, sensory factors that worsen symptoms are often known as triggers. Studies show that around one in four people who suffer from chronic headache or migraine have food triggers. However, it can be difficult to tell whether a food is consistent, or additive, meaning it pairs with something else that has already caused the symptoms to begin.
According to Dr. Mueller, without proper medical treatment, chronic headache and migraine may have an effect on our mental health, involving the development of depression, anxiety, and mood disorders.
“The most common treatment methods are over-the-counter painkillers, supplements containing caffeine, abortive medication that helps stop the headache after it’s started, and preventative medication, which may be a daily pill, monthly shot, or Botox injection.”
Megan Brody, PA-C, of Haddonfield Primary & Specialty Care, commonly administers Botox for chronic migraine, which is an injection that blocks nerve signals in the muscles surrounding the skull, causing temporary relaxation.
“Botox is typically prescribed to patients who have not seen significant benefit from oral medications or other preventative treatments,” explained Brody. “They’ll receive this treatment every 12 weeks (4 times a year).”
“It can be problematic when someone is hesitant to try abortive or preventative medicine, and instead relies on popping painkillers or overloading on caffeine,” said Dr. Mueller. “This actually aggravates the symptoms and keeps the cycle going.”
In addition to medical treatment, there are “tricks” that are simple to implement and may help headache and migraine symptoms subside, such as:
- Keep a consistent meal schedule.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. (Try and get at least 7 hours per night.)
- Stay hydrated!
- Stay active, but don’t over-exert yourself.
- Limit your caffeine intake.
If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from chronic headache or migraine, speak with your primary care provider sooner, rather than later. You may need to be referred to a neurologist or headache specialist to rule out any secondary and potentially life-threatening causes. While these aren’t as common as primary headaches and migraines, they are possible.