Risk Factors Associated with Recurrent Headaches
Unless your chronic headaches are a result of an underlying physical condition such as meningitis or a brain injury, you and your doctor may be unable to determine the exact cause of pain. While women in general tend to have more headaches than men, people of both sexes with certain risk factors have been shown to have higher instances of recurrent headaches, including:
• Overuse of prescription or over the counter pain medication
• A high caffeine intake
• Mood and/or behavioral issues including depression, anxiety and sleep disorders
• Frequent intake of certain foods, such as those containing monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Eliminating any suspect foods and/or drinks from your daily routine is an excellent way to determine if your body is negatively responding to one or more ingredients within your diet. Keeping a headache journal and working with your healthcare provider or nutritionist can help narrow down which food items could be responsible for your chronic headaches.
Prescription Medications May Provide Relief
If changing your diet proves unsuccessful in relieving chronic headaches, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Beta blockers such as atenolol, metoprolol, or propranolol, work to relax blood vessels and slow heart rate to reduce blood pressure, and have also been used to prevent migraine headaches.
- Prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen sodium block the body’s production of inflammation-causing enzymes. NSAIDs are used to relieve pain from headaches, muscle aches, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions which cause pain.
- OnabotulinumtoxinA (BOTOX®) injections are sometimes used to prevent chronic migraine headaches in adults, as well as other conditions which result in abnormal muscle tightening that causes pain. These types of injections are given over time; however, this treatment is not without significant risk. Close consultation with your doctor is essential prior to receiving onabotulinumtoxinA injections.
- Tricyclic antidepressants including nortriptyline can sometimes relieve pain from arthritis, nerve damage, tension headaches, migraines and other pain, and may be used under a doctor’s care in combination with other medications. The method of pain relief from tricyclic antidepressants is not fully understood, but it is thought that they may increase neurotransmitters in the spinal cord that reduce pain signals.
Reducing Your Stress Reduces Headaches
Many people who experience chronic headaches are intuitively aware that the stress of their daily routine is responsible for their frequent bouts of mild to intense pain. Adopting healthy ways of managing and easing stress will likely reduce the frequency and severity of these headaches while simultaneously improving your overall quality of life.
Since anxiety and depression are also clearly linked with recurrent headaches, anything which helps elevate your day-to-day mood may help reduce symptoms. If your doctor suggests an antidepressant medication, make sure to discuss any concerns you have regarding side effects before beginning treatment. A number of natural methods to improve your mood and manage stress, including gentle exercise, may be appropriate and provide long-lasting relief from headache pain as well.
Alternative and Complimentary Medicine
Among the lengthy list of alternative and/or complimentary healthcare options available, the following may be helpful in the treatment of chronic headaches, especially if the root cause is
- Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine which utilizes tiny needles inserted into key points of the body, and has been used to treat pain for thousands of years. If you go this route, it is important to make sure your acupuncturist is experienced in the treatment of recurrent headaches to obtain the best results.
- Regular massage treatments, particularly in people with chronically tight shoulder, back, and neck muscles can reduce headache pain caused by stress and/or muscle tension.
- Herbal remedies such as feverfew and butterbur are sometimes used to prevent migraine headaches as well as the associated nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light that accompanies them.
- Nutritional supplements, including riboflavin (vitamin B-2), coenzyme Q10, and magnesium sulfate can support healthy levels of these nutrients in the body and may reduce the number and intensity of cluster and migraine headaches.1
- Aromatherapy: Essential plant oils like peppermint and lavender are often used in aromatherapy to reduce stress and relieve headache pain. Other plants that may have calming qualities when their scents are inhaled include rosemary, bergamot, sandalwood and eucalyptus.
An Ounce of Prevention May Provide a Pound of Cure
When it comes to chronic headaches, prevention can be key to preventing recurrence. By carefully reviewing your headache journal in conjunction with your healthcare provider, you may be able to locate triggers in your day-to-day routine that consistently result in headache symptoms. Learning to avoid those particular triggers and making simple lifestyle changes are some of the easiest ways to improve your quality of life by minimizing daily headache pain.
Not everyone responds to specific headache therapies in the same way. Before taking medications or alternative therapies, discuss these therapies with your health care provider. After reviewing your medical history and any medications you are currently taking, he or she will be able to provide the best medical advice for your particular situation.