Chronic headache sufferers recognize the symptoms from a mile away: sensitivity to light, the dull, faint ache in the temples, or a slight wave of nausea.
And they know the next 24 to 48 hours can be miserable.
June is National Headache Awareness Month, and according to Tahlequah City Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Brent Rotton, more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches. Headache Awareness Week focuses on helping people understand what makes their heads ache and how to get relief.
“A migraine is a throbbing, one-sided pain that often causes nausea and keeps people from functioning in their work or personal life,” said Rotton. “About 30 million Americans suffer from this treatable neuro-biological disorder. Yet it is estimated that more than half of all people who have migraine headaches have never been diagnosed and are failing to take advantage of the relief that is available today.”
According to the National Headache Foundation, migraines generally begin with a dull ache, developing into a constant throbbing, pulsating pain the victim may feel at the temples, as well as the front or back of one or both sides of the head. The pain is usually accompanied by a combination of nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise.
Some people - about 15 percent of migraine sufferers - experience an aura before an attack. An aura may include seeing wavy or jagged lines, dots or flashing lights; tunnel vision of blind spots in one or both eyes.
The cause of migraines is believed to be chemical reactions in the brain, and treatment may include over-the-counter or prescription medications, as well as self-help techniques such as relaxation training or biofeedback.
WebMD lists common migraine triggers as fasting, dehydration, certain foods like chocolate or caffeine, stress, weather changes and lack of sleep.
While migraines are one of the most severe strains of headache, they are not the only type. Others include tension, sinus, cluster and rebound headaches.
The National Headache Foundation indicates tension-type headaches occur randomly and are often the result of temporary stress, anxiety, fatigue or anger. Symptoms include soreness in the temples, a tightening, band-like sensation around the head and contracting head and neck muscles.
A cluster headache is named so because the attacks generally come in groups. The pain arrives with little or no warning, and is usually centralized on one side of the head. Cluster headaches are often described as the most severe and intense type, and are believed to be caused by chemical reactions in the brain.
Rebound headaches are the result of taking acute headache medications too often. Instead of relieving the pain, they actually begin to cause the ailment they were prescribed to treat.
Rotton said there are a number of ways to deal with the malady.
“If you’re bothered by headaches, a headache log can help in identifying triggers that bring on headaches, as well as pinpointing the location and type of pain,” said Rotton. “Even if prevention isn’t always possible, there are new products on the market that can bring relief from all kinds of headaches.”
Rotton also indicated it’s important to seek help, as migraines are considered a disease and deserve the same care and attention as any health problem.
“Visit a doctor specifically about your headaches,” said Rotton. “This lets your doctor know the problem is serious and not just an afterthought. If your primary care physician doesn’t treat migraines, search for a doctor who does.”
Rotton said that typically, physicians may want a headache-sufferer to pursue a treatment plan for about three months and then schedule a return appointment to evaluate the treatment’s effectiveness.
“Headaches are legitimate, biological disorders, not psychological conditions,” he said. “If headaches are serious and frequent enough to interfere with your life, it’s time to schedule a visit with your doctor.”
Deana Franke, owner of Oasis Health Food Store, said she doesn’t often suffer from headaches, but she understands the pain they cause others.
“On the rare occasion that I get a headache, I try to do breathing exercises, use pressure points on my face, and yoga,” said Franke.
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