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home : health : health December 17, 2014

3/8/2011 1:40:00 PM
Dealing with headaches
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Headaches can be an annoyance - or a life-sapping chronic problem. The causes can be mysterious; migraines are still not well understood and a headache may be caused by anything from muscle tension to a brain tumor.

For some, headaches are beyond their control and medication is required to deal with them. For many others, however, modest changes in lifestyle can reduce or eliminate the scourge.

"A lot of times, what people think are migraines are actually cluster headaches, which is a blood-flow issue," says Dr. Bonnie Malone.

Such headaches may be related to muscle tension or misalignment of the neck, back and shoulders and can be relieved through chiropractic or massage treatment.

Regular exercise and getting up to move around during the workday can go a long way toward preventing the development of cluster headaches.

"Posture is critical," Malone notes. "Many people hold their heads translated forward rather than maintaining a neutral posture, which allows the natural curve of the neck. Keeping the neck neutral enhances blood-flow and reduces muscle irritation, thus contracture, which can result in headache. Often the cause of occipital (base of skull) headaches is this spasming from improper


Caffeine addiction is a common cause of headaches. If you're a heavy coffee drinker, missing your morning coffee may be enough to trigger a headache. Caffeine will relieve the headache, but you get caught up in a cycle of dependency.

Excessive sugar can cause headaches, too. As in most things, moderation is a good policy; getting headaches is a signal that you need to change your ways.

Simple dehydration is a common headache cause. Keep the water flowing, Malone says: "Lots of water, less sugar drinks. The key to staying hydrated? Drink when you feel thirsty. Drink sports drinks for electrolytes and minerals in hot weather along with plain water."

Food allergies and intolerances can trigger headaches. If you're getting regular headaches, it's a good idea to keep a food journal to help you pinpoint what may be a dietary trigger. Avoid the trigger, avoid the headache.

Life can be really tough for those who suffer from migraines - and how they respond can actually make things worse.

Popping medications to combat migraines can convert the problem into "chronic daily headache," a miserable and even debilitating condition.

"Chronic daily headache is a pretty big deal," says Dr. May Fan of Bend Memorial Clinic. "And it's difficult to treat once you have it."

Dr. Fan believes regular migraine sufferers should consider going on preventative medication rather than treating the migraine once it occurs.

"I'm fairly pro-daily medication if someone is prone to fairly frequent migraines," she says.

Dr. Jared Skowron, a naturopathic physician who works with Metabolic Maintenance Products of Sisters, notes that, "Most people actually have migraines from different foods. You may not recognize it, because it can take up to 48 hours for a food to cause a headache. A ... patient of mine had omelettes every Sunday morning and had migraines on Tuesdays. Switch to a very simple diet of turkey, fish, vegetables, and fruits for a couple of weeks to see if your migraines go away. You can't have any grains, dairy, coffee, or alcohol. Sounds pretty strict, but what if you never had another migraine again?

"The most common supplements to help with migraines are B vitamins and the herb butterbur. I use Metabolic Maintenance's B-Complex Phosphorylated as the most active B vitamin supplement on the market."

For most people headaches are a common occasional problem and usually respond well to relatively minor adjustments to diet, body mechanics, and stress management. But when are they serious enough that you should see a doctor?

"If someone is having to take a lot of over-the-counter medication - let's say more than twice a week - they should schedule a visit," Dr. Fan says.

See a doctor if:

• You are over 40 and starting to have regular and/or severe headaches. They could be a sign of an underlying condition that needs to be discovered and addressed.

• If the pain is excruciating, that's a cause for an emergency visit.

• If there are any associated neurological symptoms - numbness, pain in extremities, dizziness, weakness in the limbs, etc.

• If you've taken a blow to the head - especially if you are also vomiting.

Don't just mask the symptoms of your headache. Tackle the underlying causes - either on your own or with the help of health care professionals. You don't have to live with pain.

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