Why Does My Head Hurt?

If you’re one of the 37 million people nationwide who suffer from chronic migraines, there’s an organization that can help you.

The National Headache Foundation is a group of physicians with the goal of improving the healthcare of individuals with recurring headaches and migraines.

Several doctors from the group came to the Northern Illinois University campus in Naperville to answer the question “Why does my head hurt?”

Headaches often occur as just one symptom of migraines, which is the underlying disease. For many people, migraine attacks can be so painful and frequent that they can’t function at work or school.

“It’s not only the intensity of pain that makes it debilitating, but also nausea [and] vomiting,” said George Urban, Co-Director for the Diamond Headache Clinic. “People cannot concentrate. They cannot sleep. They get depressed.”

Certain factors or events may trigger a migraine, like changes in weather, stress, high altitude, lack of sleep or changes in sleep patterns, skipping a meal (especially breakfast), certain medications, and even some foods (like peanut butter).

“That’s why we ask patients to keep a diary or a calendar of the headache. What did you eat that might trigger the headache or what did you do before?” said Dr. Urban.

Another trigger is menstruation, which is why severe headaches are far more common among women, about 70% of migraine patients in fact.

Experts say adequate sleep, proper nutrition, daily exercise, meditation, and acupuncture can reduce the risk of a migraine headache. If symptoms should occur, it’s important to treat the migraine right away.

“Treating a migraine is a race against the clock. The longer you wait for treatment, the less likely anything’s going to work,” said Dr. Jack Gladstein, Director of the Pediatric and Young Adult Headache Clinic. “You want to treat it at the first twinge. Principles of treatment are take medication specifically for headache and get it in as soon as you can at high doses.”

The National Headache Foundation has its own website, www.headaches.org, which offers resources for those seeking relief.

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