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August 18, 2016 | Family Medicine
One of the most common conditions that family practitioners help patients deal with is headache pain. This is not surprising seeing that nine in 10 adults will experience a headache at least once in their life. Every year, seven in 10 people have at least one headache, and 45 million Americans are afflicted with chronic headaches, according to the American College of Physicians. Children are not immune from headaches either. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that two out of three children will experience headaches by age 15.
Headaches have many triggers. A few of the most common include:
While over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen are the first thing that many people with headaches reach for, these medications can cause side effects and lead to overuse if taken more than a few times per week. Why not implement a few simple, everyday habits that can help you stop a headache before it even starts?
One of the most helpful things you can do to prevent headaches and migraines is to monitor your diet. Foods and nutrients that seem to help prevent and lessen headache pain include:
Foods that are known to trigger headache and migraine pain include:
If you have an undiagnosed gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, ingesting grains, beer, processed meats, and many condiments and seasonings can lead to a headache. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, foregoing gluten can completely resolve or significantly reduce migraine headaches in this case. Try cutting back on your daily gluten intake, or eliminating it totally for a few weeks, to see if this makes a difference.
Yes, there is such a thing as a water-deprivation headache. Dehydration headaches often include impaired concentration and irritability. Drinking coffee, alcohol, and sugary drinks instead of adequate amounts of pure water is a sure set-up for a headache.
A great way to up your daily water intake and stay hydrated is by adding more high-water-content fruits and vegetables to your plate. Choose:
Many people look forward to a glass of wine after work or a cold beer on a hot day, but these beverages contain a chemical called ethanol. Ethanol may cause headaches by several means, explains the National Headache Foundation:
If you are familiar with the sensation of your skull being squeezed in a vise-grip, then you experience tension headaches, one of the most common forms. They are frequently caused by stress and lack of sleep—two things that are within your power to change. Try these simple solutions:
Get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, and unplug from your TV and computer for at least an hour before hitting the sack.
Keep to a regular schedule. Routine can help lower your stress levels.
When using electronic devices, work in a space that is bright and well ventilated. Don’t look at your computer screen for more than 15 minutes without looking away to focus on another object. This reduces eyestrain, a frequent headache trigger.
Take a warm, soothing bath with baking soda and/or Epsom salts, and add in a few drops of essential oils such as lavender, lemongrass, or peppermint. Your muscles relax, and the aromatherapy effects are calming and cooling.
For a throbbing headache, apply ice to your temples. This lowers the temperature of the blood in the lining of your brain. To relax a tight neck, apply heat.
Acupuncture can be very effective for treating headaches and migraines. Studies found that acupuncture patients reported 62 percent headache relief versus only 45 percent who used medication.
Massage your temples, or treat yourself to a full-body massage with special TLC given to your head, neck, shoulders, and back. People with migraines who had six weekly massage sessions enjoyed less frequent migraines and better sleep.
Biofeedback, a technique that allows you to control certain functions of the body, helps you learn how to relax muscles and release stress to prevent and lessen headache pain. Studies show biofeedback is effective for migraine and tension-type headaches and is more cost-effective over time than prescription drugs.
Daily doses of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as cycling, brisk walking, or swimming, can reduce migraine intensity and frequency, according to the National Pain Foundation. In addition to light cardio, adding stretching exercises is a great way to control stress and prevent headaches.
A 2012 study measured the results of a 12-month stretching program for 60 women. The results showed “a 69 percent decrease in headache frequency and symptom intensity.” The results were even more promising when the women added strength training and muscle endurance exercises to their routines.
If you sit at a desk hunched over a computer for most of the day, your posture can be setting you up for major tension headaches. Discipline yourself to take a break every 30 to 60 minutes to get up, walk around and perform some range-of-motion and isometric neck stretches to relieve the tension.
Yoga is a wonderful way to relieve built-up tension. It clears your mind, loosens your muscles, improves respiration, increases vitality, and builds muscle strength. Yoga poses stimulate the circulatory system, and the focus on your breath helps calm and balance you. A small study using migraine patients found that three months of yoga therapy resulted in less frequent and less painful attacks and less anxiety.
Dr. Abe Tomco
Dr. Abe Tomco at North Orem Family Medicine is ready to partner with you and empower you with healthy lifestyle habits to help you care for your body and prevent illness. Dr. Tomco’s motto is, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and he loves sharing his passion for preventive medicine with children, adolescents, and adults.
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.