Headache and Migraine Treatment

  • Treatment

    Because a headache can be a sign of a serious problem, such as an infection, tumor, or stroke, certain signs should prompt you to seek medical attention right away Table 02.

    Table 2.  Warning Signs That Your Headache May Signal a More Serious Problem

    If you experience any of the following signs, contact your doctor immediately:
    Sudden onset of severe headaches
    Headache that is accompanied by fever and stiff neck
    Headache that is accompanied by confusion or loss of speech

    Try to relax. Oftentimes, taking some time to unwind can relieve a tension headache. Likewise, resting in a dark, quiet room may alleviate migraines.

    Take over-the-counter pain relievers. Analgesics like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen can ease tension headaches and milder forms of migraine. However, some over-the-counter headache preparations contain caffeine, which makes them more effective, but can also cause headaches if consumed more than one or two days per week.

    Some people find that an ice pack can quell headache pain; others respond better to heat. Tension headaches in particular seem to respond well to a hot shower or bath, or to a hot towel or heating pad placed around the head or neck.

    Keep a “headache diary” or a daily log. A written diary can provide your doctor with vital information about the frequency, intensity, and duration of the headaches, the effectiveness of medications, potential triggers, and the possibility of a link to the menstrual cycle. Your doctor may provide you with a convenient printed diary for you to take home.

    Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.

    Techniques that promote relaxation may ease the pain of a tension or a migraine headache Table 03. Some effective relaxation methods include yoga, deep-breathing, and in some cases, aerobic exercise. Some people use biofeedback, which is a relaxation method that involves being hooked up to a device that records physiological variables such as muscle tension. The idea is that this feedback can help you gain some control over your own level of relaxation.

    Table 3.  Progressive Relaxation Exercise for Headaches

    In a quiet, dark room, lie down or lean back in a comfortable chair.
    Take 10 slow, deep breaths; take 2 seconds to breathe in, followed by 4 to 5 seconds of breathing out.
    Tightly clench your feet and toes for a few seconds, then release.
    Repeat this process for the rest of your body, moving upward from the legs and buttocks to the back, the abdomen, hands, arms, shoulders, jaw, and finally, the muscles of the face.
    Yawn several times.
    Squeeze your eyes open and shut while taking another 10 deep breaths.
    Continue breathing, allowing the relaxation to increase.
    Resume your normal activities.

    Adapted from The Burton Goldberg Group. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Triburon, Calif: Future Medicine Publishing Inc. 1999.

    Massage therapy focused on your neck, forehead, and temples can promote relaxation and relieve tension headaches Table 04.

    Table 4.  Massage for Headaches

    Doing these exercises periodically throughout the day may prevent your headaches from recurring. These exercises may also be performed by a partner, who can stand behind you while you are seated.
    Sit comfortably in a chair, breathing freely from the diaphragm.
    Apply gentle pressure to the back of your neck and roll your head in a circle.
    Rest a moment
    Squeeze your neck again, but increase the pressure.
    Repeat the squeezing followed by a short release 20 times.
    Next, find any sore or tender areas in your neck or shoulders and press them with your fingertips. Simultaneously, move your arms and shoulders in a gentle rhythmic motion. Continue this step until your headache fades.

    Adapted from The Burton Goldberg Group. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Triburon, Calif: Future Medicine Publishing Inc. 1999.

    Some vitamins and herbs have proven useful for managing headaches. Be sure to discuss any alternative therapy with your doctor Table 05. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) may prevent migraines by helping your body use oxygen more efficiently, thus preventing fatigue that can lead to headache.

    The herb feverfew is used in Europe to reduce the intensity and frequency of migraines.

    Table 5.  Herbal Remedies Used for Headache

    Rosemary teaa Prepare a tea by adding 1/2 oz rosemary to 1 pint boiled water and steeping for 10 min in a covered pot
    Mixed herbal tea Add equal measures of rosemary, skullcap, valerian, chamomile, and peppermint to 1 pint boiling water. Steep 10 min in a tightly covered pot. Drink 1/2 cup every hour.
    External herbal treatment Prepare a stimulating oil consisting of ginger, peppermint, wintergreen, and Tiger Balm (an herbal remedy available as a commercial preparation of menthol, camphor, clove oil, peppermint oil, cajuput oil, wax, and petrolatum, available in Chinese apothecaries and some drugstores and health food stores). Apply to the forehead and temples.

    a Because it is high in calcium, rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) is considered by herbalists to be beneficial to the entire nervous system. Based on Tierra M: The Way of Herbs. New York: Washington Square Press; August 1998.

    Women sometimes have migraines that correspond to their menstrual cycles. Women who get migraines in conjunction with their periods may want to consider taking NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) one to two days before the expected onset of headaches, and continue taking them for the expected duration.

    Many people who get headaches also suffer from anxiety and depression. It is not known whether depression occurs as a result or precursor to headache.

    When treated correctly, headache disorders are manageable. Making the right lifestyle adjustments and taking the appropriate medications can reduce disability from headaches disorders, and allows most patients to lead normal lives.

    You should see your doctor periodically if you are taking medications for a headache disorder. Tension and migraine headaches can be effectively controlled with medications and other treatments. See your doctor periodically to discuss how well your regimen is working, and whether it needs to be adjusted.

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