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Why won’t these headaches go away?

Svircev2_thumbby Anna Svircev, DO, MPH of the Platteville Clinic at Southwest Health

Sometimes a headache is just annoying, but other times it is downright debilitating. Have you ever had a really terrible one?

A headache that is more severe than a traditional headache—one that causes sensitivity to light, sound, and/or smell—may be a migraine headache. Migraines affect up to 12 percent of the population. They are the third most common and sixth most disabling disease in the world. Most people either know someone who struggles with migraines, or they suffer from migraines themselves. Though migraines may occur at any age, they are most common in adult women.

Symptoms of migraine headaches include nausea, sensitivity to light and/or sound, and severe throbbing which usually happen on one side of the head. More serious symptoms can include dizziness, vision problems, and numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or face. Some of these neurological symptoms can begin to occur even before the actual head pain begins and typically last between four and 72 hours. These neurological symptoms are similar to the symptoms of a stroke, so if you are having these symptoms for the first time, make sure to call your doctor or go to the emergency room.

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While there is still much to learn about migraines, research does tell us that common triggers include emotional stress, change in hormones (for women), not eating, sleep changes, odors, neck pain, lights, alcohol, heat, foods, and exercise. Because the list is long, it may seem impossible to avoid triggering a migraine attack. The best way to limit how often migraines happen is to get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and reduce your stress.

When a migraine does occur, the first line treatment is Acetaminophen or NSAIDs (Ibuprofen or Naproxen). And, of course, hydration with water and rest. If those remedies don’t work, you should ask your doctor about specific migraine headache medications, called triptans. If you experience daily migraines or more than 15 migraines per month, there are daily medications to reduce the frequency of migraines.

Some people may not wish to take or do not tolerate medications for their migraines. In these situations, we often look for complementary or alternative treatments instead. If you are looking for complementary treatments, talk to your doctor about potential therapies, exercises and stretches, and lifestyle changes that may help you reduce the frequency or severity of migraines. Some complementary therapies include acupuncture, physical therapy, hypnotherapy, and massage. Low impact exercises such as Tai Chi and Yoga have also shown to help ease both symptoms and frequency for some chronic migraine sufferers.

It’s best to talk to your doctor about beginning or changing any medications and/or exercise routines. To talk to a doctor about your headaches, call the Platteville Clinic at Southwest Health at (608) 348-4330.

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