When headache symptoms appear, it’s crucial to connect to your body and identify what you are experiencing so you can make a proper diagnosis.
Not all headaches are the same. And not all headaches are migraines. Depending on your symptoms and how severe the symptoms are, treatment options may vary.
Following this 3-step approach below can help you treat your headaches this season and year-round. If you know someone who suffers from headaches, please share this article with them.
Step 1 - Assess Your Symptoms
- Take a moment to identify where the pain originates from and keep a record (headache diary) from the onset. If you are a frequent headache/migraine sufferer, this can help your physician tailor treatments to be most effective for you. Download sheet here – Migraine Sheet
- Take note of additional symptoms. Do you notice any unusual feelings prior to the onset of the migraine? Or any other signs or symptoms occurring during the migraine? If so, record them in your migraine journal.
- Do a body scan. Are you feeling any nausea, dizziness, pain, or tension in other areas such as the neck or upper back? Do you feel any tingling or numbness in the arms/hands, legs/feet? Is there any weakness in the arms or legs… or maybe symptoms on just one side of the body? If so, record it in detail.
Step 2 - Identify What Type of Headache You Are Experiencing
Note: This guide is only for educational purposes. If you are experiencing reoccurring or severe symptoms, make sure to schedule a full in-person assessment by your neurologist.
The most common types of headaches are:
Migraine: This type of headache is the most common. Migraines are associated with sensitivity to light and sound. Pain is usually on one side of the head, and feelings of discomfort can last anywhere from four hours up to 3 days.
It is common to experience an “aura” (warning sign) at least 30 to 60 minutes before the attack of a general migraine. This warning can feel like a disturbance in vision, speech, and feelings of tingling or numbness in the hands or legs. It may simply be a clouding of thought or decrease in the ability to concentrate.
Tension: This second most common type of headache is associated with pressure around the back of the head and the top (much like a tight headband). Often it starts in the back of the neck and radiates up to the back of the head. They can then spread to involve the entire cranium. Some triggers for this include stress in the neck, neck injuries, whiplash, and even tension across the jaw joints. Tension headaches can last from a few hours to a few days. These fall under the category of cervicogenic headaches.
Cluster: A cluster headache is the type of headache that is relatively short-lived. Symptoms typically occur for up to two hours. Cluster headaches are also associated with other symptoms such as congestion (on one side of the nose), tearing, and vision changes (on one side). These are described as intractable pain, and almost exclusively occur in men.
Hypnic: This type of headache is the most uncommon and generally occurs in mature individuals over 40 years of age. Hypnic headaches are short-lived, ranging from a few minutes to an hour, occurring exclusively at night. Hypnic headaches are not associated with any other symptoms.
Step 3 - Treat Accordingly
Treatment for headaches varies according to type and severity. Working with your neurologist to tailor a plan specifically for you is the most effective way to treat this condition.
Getting adequate rest, managing stress levels, and maintaining proper nutrition and hydration are crucial to recovery from all migraine conditions. During the summer months, when heat and humidity is at its peak, hydration is essential.
Oftentimes migraines can be triggered by dehydration, summer heat, too much caffeine intake, and inadequate sleep. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to minimizing the frequency and severity of migraines.
OTC (over-the-counter drugs) containing acetaminophen can work if used in moderation for general headache management. If symptoms persist, it is recommended to see a neurologist who specializes in the treatment of headache disorders.
Headache sufferers can use different medications to treat various conditions, such as analgesics to provide pain relief or triptans to relieve migraine symptoms. This is actually a brand new age in migraine headache management, with a variety of new “wonder drugs “. Working with your neurologist to determine if these would be an appropriate treatment for you makes a great deal of sense. If the origin of migraine is due to nerve complications, your physician can prescribe medication to treat the nerve pain.
For severe and reoccurring migraines, a deeper look may be necessary. A more comprehensive evaluation may be appropriate for anyone who has had a recent brain injury, car accident, or incident like a stroke.
EEG testing and imaging such as an fMRI scan can be done to provide valuable data and insights into the patient’s condition. Laboratories as well as vascular studies may be appropriate as well.
Therapies such as physical therapy, chiropractic therapy, acupuncture, and massage therapy, can help alleviate tension in the spinal column – a common cause of migraines.
Treatments, such as trigger injections and Botox, can also be used to provide alleviation of pain.
A message from Dr. Kandel
“Just as not all headaches are migraines, it is true that some headaches are migraines. It is rare that headaches come from a serious underlying neurologic condition, but persistent headaches warrant a comprehensive evaluation. Just like a patient would never ignore chest pain or pressure that persists, you should also not avoid an assessment of your headache symptoms due to anxiety or fear. Finding the right diagnosis can lead to the appropriate treatment… and ultimately lead to the cure of your headache symptom complex.”
For more information, check out these books written by Dr. Kandel!
Feel free to share this with the people in your life who may benefit from this information! For more insights on neurology, check out our weekly tips on our Neurology Office Facebook page.
“To Cure Sometimes, To Heal Often, To Comfort Always”
Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel M.D. and Associates
“Concierge medicine without the concierge price”