When To Seek Medical Care
You should call your doctor for any headache if:
- You develop new symptoms not typical of prior headaches.
- An unusually severe headache occurs.
- You pass out or lose time.
- Your headache lasts an unusually long time.
- Headache awakens you from sleep
- Fever and neck pain or stiffness are present.
- The headache worsens or the quality of it changes significantly as you try to use the treatments that your doctor recommends.
- You develop side effects from any of the new medications that your doctor suggests to break the chronic headache cycle.
The Unfairness Of Let Down Migraines
If stress can trigger a migraine, you’d think that recovering from a stressful week with a relaxing weekend would be just what the doctor ordered.
But there’s a phenomenon called a “let down migraine,” in which people get migraine attacks on the weekend. But the week’s stress is already over, so gives?
While experts aren’t quite sure why this happens, says Dr. O’Neal, it is something that doctors regularly see.
“We know that, as a generalization, migraineurs tend to be successful people. There must be some reason why they can continue to be successful despite having a debilitating disease,” she says.
One theory: perhaps the migraine is being suppressed until it doesn’t need to be. When the stress is over, your body doesn’t see a need to hold back anymore. Like that, you’re left lying in bed all day on a Saturday.
Another theory has to do with changes to sleep routines and eating schedules, which can trigger a migraine regardless of stress.
Support The Migraine Mechanism
For some migraine sufferers, their bodies have few resources to deal with an attack so when the aura has started, little will work to prevent a full blown migraine.
But everything should be tried and every measure taken.
This is also a reminder that we pushed the envelope a little too far and need to pull back a little earlier before our body gets pushed over the edge again.
We need to support the system and plan for the hangover.
This means recognizing how it progressed and putting a plan in place to stop it
Reducing total body stress load that comes in through our relationships, physical activity, electromagnetic fields, chemical exposure through hygiene products, makeups, foods etc.
And we need to boost nutrients available for the attack at hand, as well as our recovery period after the fact.
To understand more about the phase of migraine after the head pain, see our article on 7 Hacks for how to get rid of migraine postdrome symptoms.
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Is Stress Causing Your Chronic Migraines
More than just a tension headache, a migraine headache is debilitating and disruptive. If you get migraines, you know the agony they cause, and youve likely tried just about everything to get rid of it.
Our team of specialists at BodyWorks Medical Center can help. We work with migraine patients every day and help them identify the root cause of their headaches. Thats only the first step. Next, we figure out your unique triggers so we can design a customized treatment plan just for you. We dont believe in simply masking your pain or alleviating it temporarily with drugs. Our goal is to help you achieve wellness so you can live medication free and pain-free, stopping migraines before they start.
Tips To Ease Migraine Pain
Even if you avoid your triggers and practice healthy habits, you may still experience migraines. Here are some home remedies that might bring relief.
You take prevention medication and steer clear of your known triggers but still, youre hit with a migraine. Sometimes you cant avoid it. So, what can you to do relieve the pain?
Once an attack begins, you can take medication to help ease pain, says an associate professor of neurology at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. And beyond taking migraine medication, you may want to give a few home remedies a try.
There arent a lot of studies to show they are definitively effective, Dr. Good says, but many of her patients do say they help.
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What Is A Stress Headache
Stress headaches arent an official classification of headaches in the International Classification of Headache Disorders , but are more accurately known as tension-type or tension headaches, Ellen Drexler, MD, a board-certified neurologist based in New York, tells Health.
Tension-type headaches are defined by the absence of migraine features, so they tend to appear on both sides of the head, feeling like a pressure pain, without the usual migraine accompaniments of nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and worsened by head movement, says Dr. Drexler. They’d be the sort of run-of-the-mill pressure in the front of your head kind of headache of mild to moderate severity.
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According to the US National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus database, tension headaches are the most common type of headache and are described as pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck, often associated with muscle tightness. Tension headaches affect roughly 70% of people, and can last for 30 minutes to 72 hours, Susan Broner, MD, assistant professor of clinical neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, tells Health, and in order to be properly diagnosed with tension headaches, you need to have a history of them. To make the diagnosis, you’ve had to have had at least 10 of these ,” Dr. Broner says.
How Does Stress Affect Migraine
We know that the biochemical changes of the bodys response to stress can be one of the changes that irritates the migraine sufferers brain.The brain of a migraineur is sensitive to sensory inputs and changes even when there is no headache present.
So increasing levels of stress and even reducing levels of stress can contribute to triggering an attack.The so-called let-down headache commonly found at the weekend after a busy week at work is one example of this.
In one study stress was cited as a trigger by 66.7% of patients and reduction of stress by 50%.
The relationship between stress and migraine is a tricky balance. Migraine is quite stressful. A typical migraine attack means one might have to stop everything: work, social events, family time, personal time etc. Many migraineurs say that they can never schedule or plan anything because they might have to cancel last minute due to a migraine. This uncertainty causes more stress. Those who get regular migraines, their migraine acts as a stress inducer.
The way a sufferer responds to stress can contribute or can help.
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Pay Close Attention To The Weather
Environmental conditions such as weather can trigger a migraine. You need to avoid migraine triggers such as climatic condition to prevent discomfort. Avoid hot temperatures and high humidity as they can stimulate headaches. In some people, rainy weather can trigger a headache. So, when the weather causes discomfort, you need to take a break. While it is not possible to avoid going outdoors, you can minimize the time you spend outdoors.
Are There Any Risks To Taking Medication To Treat Tension Headaches
Over-the-counter pain relievers are generally safe. But overusing pain relievers can cause other problems. Make sure to follow the instructions on the bottle carefully. Always check in with your provider if you feel the need to use pain relievers more than twice a week.
Take these medications only when you need them. Use the smallest dose that relieves your pain.
In general, overusing pain medications may cause:
- Headaches: Taking pain relievers too often can actually cause a headache when you stop taking the medicine. This effect is similar to withdrawal.
- Other side effects: All drugs have side effects. Avoid taking aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , such as ibuprofen, too often. Overuse may cause stomach pain, bleeding or ulcers. If you take any medication regularly, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
- Reduced benefits over time: Your body can build up a tolerance any medication. You may notice that a medication youve used regularly doesnt work as well as it once did.
- Dependence: Some medications can become addictive. They may pose more risks than benefits. For that reason, healthcare providers usually recommend against prescribing benzodiazepines and narcotics to treat tension headaches.
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Discovering Your Migraine Triggers
Migraines affect the lives of about 36 million people in the United States. These debilitating headaches often come with warning signs that can help you head them off at the pass. While your warning signs may fill you with dread, if youre able to identify exactly your triggers, you may be able to avoid migraines altogether.
Some common migraine triggers include:
- Weather changes
This helps us pinpoint the cause or causes of your episodes so we can treat you accordingly.
What Are Some Triggers That May Bring On Tension
You may be more likely to have tension headaches if you have:
- Eye strain, such as from staring at a computer screen for a long time.
- Pain in other parts of your head and neck caused by problems such as temporomandibular disorders.
- Problems sleeping, such as insomnia.
- Stress related to family, work or life challenges, such as starting or losing a job or juggling too many commitments.
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Can Migraines Be Prevented
You can’t prevent every migraine. But learning your triggers and trying to avoid them can help. Take a break from activities that might start a migraine, such as using the computer for a long time. If you know that some foods are triggers, skip them. Some people find that cutting back on caffeine or drinking a lot of water can help prevent migraines.
Make a plan for all the things you have to do especially during stressful times like exams so you don’t feel overwhelmed when things pile up. Regular exercise also can reduce stress and make you feel better.
The more you understand about your headaches, the better prepared you can be to fight them.
Use A Multidisciplinary Approach
I also tell my patients they have to take a holistic approach to managing migraine, Cowan says. I believe it takes a village to raze a headache, and this means using a multidisciplinary approach.
One way of doing this is to pay attention to your life. Cowan recommends, Dont let the clutter pile up. If you didnt sleep well one night, avoid wine that day.
He also adds, You cant live in a cave with migraine. You take the precautions you can, and then live your life.
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How Can I Prevent Tension Headaches
Researchers have yet to uncover how to prevent all headaches. If you experience chronic tension-type headaches or frequent tension-type headaches certain medications may stop some headaches before they start. These are antidepressants such as amitriptyline or venlafaxine or duloxetine. These work on the pain centers in the brain.
Overall, lifestyle changes and reducing your response to stress is the best way to prevent tension headaches. The most effective stress management tool is the one that fits into your life and you feel good using. You may want to try:
- Massage therapy.
What Does The Research Say
Though what exactly causes migraines hasnt been established, researchers believe they may be caused by changes in the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate pain.
A 2014 study found that people with migraines who experienced a reduction in stress from one day to the next were significantly more likely to have a migraine the next day.
Researchers believe that relaxation after high levels of stress was an even more significant trigger for migraine than the stress itself. This is referred to as the let-down effect. Some suggest this effect is linked to other conditions, such as getting a cold or flu.
Youll likely first notice symptoms of stress before the symptoms of a migraine. Common symptoms of stress include:
- upset stomach
- frequent yawning
Some people experience migraine with aura, which occurs after the prodrome stage. An aura causes vision disturbances. In some people, it can also cause problems with sensation, speech, and movement, such as:
- seeing flashing lights, bright spots, or shapes
- tingling in the face, arms, or legs
- difficulty speaking
- temporary loss of vision
When the pain of the headache begins, its referred to as the attack phase. Symptoms of the attack phase can last from a few hours to a few days, if left untreated. The severity of symptoms varies from person to person.
Symptoms may include:
- feeling faint or lightheaded
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Pay Attention To The Weather
Changes in the weather can impact your migraine patterns. High humidity and hot temperatures can stimulate headaches, as well as rainy days. If the weather becomes uncomfortable for you, you may need to step inside and take a break from the outdoors. Of course, you cant always avoid going outside, but you can minimize your time spent in certain headache-inducing weather.
What Otc And Prescription Medications Treat Pain And Manage Tension Headaches
Many people treat tension headache on their own, using OTC medications like acetaminophen , ibuprofen , or combination medications containing acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine . While these medications can be effective and when taken as directed are safe for most people, overuse can lead to headaches which are more frequent and severe. This can occur if these agents are used more than 2 days each week routinely. If tension headache occurs during pregnancy, the patient should contact her physician about medications that are safe to use.
- Products which contain aspirin should not be given to children due to the risk of Reyes syndrome.
- Chronic use of acetaminophen, or use of acetaminophen in large amounts may lead to liver toxicity , and a number of medications are combined with acetaminophen so patients should discuss all OTC drugs they are taking with their doctors.
If a diagnosis of chronic tension headache is made or suspected, prescription medications may be used in an effort to lessen the frequency and decrease the severity of the headaches. Medications used include antidepressants and antiseizure drugs. A doctor can help determine which medicine is best for you.
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Prescription Medicines To Prevent Headaches
Your doctor may recommend that you take a prescription medicine every day to prevent headaches. You may want to try a prescription medicine to prevent a headache if:
- You are using over-the-counter medicines to stop headaches more than 3 times a week.
- Over-the-counter medicines to stop headaches arent working well for you.
Your doctor may have you try one or more medicines, such as an antidepressant or a medicine that prevents seizures. These medicines can help prevent headaches even if you dont have depression or seizures.
When Should I Seek Help For My Headaches
Sometimes, headache can signal a more serious problem. You should talk to your doctor about your headaches if:
- You have several headaches per month and each lasts for several hours or days
- Your headaches disrupt your home, work, or school life
- You have nausea, vomiting, vision, or other sensory problems
- You have pain around the eye or ear
- You have a severe headache with a stiff neck
- You have a headache with confusion or loss of alertness
- You have a headache with convulsions
- You have a headache after a blow to the head
- You used to be headache-free, but now have headaches a lot
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Treating The Cause: Diary
It may help to keep a diary if you have frequent headaches. Note when, where, and how bad each headache is, and how long each headache lasts. Also note anything that may have caused it. A pattern may emerge and you may find a trigger to avoid. For example, hunger, eye strain, bad posture, stress, anger, etc.
Some doctors suggest reviewing your diet. The list of foods which can be triggers in some people includes caffeinated drinks, chocolate, cheese and alcohol. Other doctors suggest focusing on a healthy balanced diet, with a good mixture of slow-release energy foods and a low intake of refined sugars.
What Symptoms Must You Have To Be Diagnosed With A Migraine
Migraine with aura . This is a headache, plus:
- Visual symptoms or vision loss.
- Sensory symptoms .
Migraine without aura . A common migraine is a headache and:
- The attacks included pain on one side of your head.
- Youve had at least five attacks, each lasting between four and 72 hours.
Plus, youve experienced at least one of the following:
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Lights bother you and/or you avoid light.
- Sounds bother you and/or you avoid sounds.
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Get Your Priorities Straight
Think about your priorities, and write them down as two lists, marked Life and Now. What are the most important things on your list? What can you eliminate? Remember whats really important as you schedule your time and prioritize actions. Being always on the go, focused on tasks that dont make you happy is not the best option for leading a low-stress life.
# 4 Change The Way You See Things
Again focusing on your response. Re-framing a situation might work here to help others see outside the box, so to speak. So, if someone is being really negative or angry you can reframe the situation for them in a more positive light.
I would recommend, focusing on compassion and compassionate responses. Taking some slow deep breaths.
Imagine yourself holding your positive energy all around yourself in a protective shell.
Burg says to have a smile on your face. He suggests that whilst shaking hands say “its so nice to see you again.”
My simple example is to smile when you see the, or expect the, scowl from your least favorite uncle. Smile and hug him anyway.
When what we expect from others and the world differs to the actual, our anxiety builds up and it can start the stress reaction. So our intention matters. If we can see both sides and if we stay calm, we can lower reactivity in the brain and stop stress related migraine headaches.
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