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Suffering from a headache? You are not alone. According to the World Health Organization, headaches and associated problems are among the most common disorders of the nervous system, and are underestimated, underrecognized, and undertreated throughout the world. It’s no surprise that headache disorders are associated with disability and diminished quality of life, as well as financial cost, both on a personal level and on a societal level.
Women between the ages of 30 and 49 are most likely to have debilitating headaches, often prompting them to seek medical help. Although only a small percentage of such headaches are potentially dangerous and may warrant a brain scan, board-certified neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, writes that ordering CT scans or MRIs for headache patients has unfortunately become almost standard practice for some physicians.
Problems with imaging
For the majority of headaches, such tests are unnecessary. In fact, imaging tests:
- deliver radiation to the brain, which may have an unknown cumulative effect
- rarely help diagnose the problem
- may not help manage the symptoms
- can lead to a misdiagnosis, which causes anxiety and unnecessary treatment
- are expensive
Chances are, the person has just a common tension headache – tensing of the facial and neck muscles resulting in pain at the back of the head or neck, and sometimes at the temples. Also common are vascular headaches, which include migraine headaches. During migraines, the debilitating, throbbing pain may be on one or both sides of the head and may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
Strange symptoms and relief
Migraine headaches are often preceded by various transient neurological problems that manifest anywhere from an hour to just a few minutes before the onslaught of the headache; for example, visual disturbances, perception of strange odors, numbness or weakness of some limbs, difficulty speaking, hallucinations, or confusion. Usually, even very painful headaches are not indicative of a serious underlying problem. Since many of these headaches can be avoided with lifestyle changes, the first steps to relief would typically include dealing with stress, avoiding headache triggers, getting enough sleep, exercising moderately, and drinking enough water.
For more information, see “What’s Causing Your Headache? How to Identify and Eliminate Migraine Triggers” by David Perlmutter, MD, in the Spring 1999 Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing, Volume 23 Number 1.
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