Headaches remain a common source of pain in the U.S., but the frequency and severity differ widely among sufferers, and how to avoid headaches altogether is still a head-scratcher.
The first remedy for most people is to take a painkiller. But this may not always be the best or safest option, says Dr. Suhyun An (www.drsuhyunan.com), an expert on regenerative medicine and co-author of Demystifying Stem Cells: A Real-Life Approach To Regenerative Medicine.
Dr. An reviews why you might want to rethink popping a painkiller every time you get a headache, and she suggests other ways to deal with or reduce the frequency of headaches:
Side effects. Non-prescription analgesics, commonly taken for headaches, can have serious side effects if taken too often. “For example, if you regularly take acetaminophen (paracetamol) for several days, you could damage your liver,” Dr. An says. “These drugs can also cause kidney problems. Aspirin and ibuprofen sometimes cause gastric bleeding.”
Rebound headache. An additional problem you may encounter if you take pain relievers regularly is a medication overuse headache, also known as a rebound headache. “This is caused by regular, long-term use of medication to treat headaches, such as migraines,” Dr. An says. “It becomes less effective and your headache comes back as soon as the medicine wears off. If you choose to take a pain reliever, always follow the dosage recommendations on the label.”
Make lifestyle changes. Headaches occur for many reasons: lack of sleep, poor diet, stress, excessive computer or phone screen time, etc. Tweaks in your daily routine can reduce the number of headaches or migraines you have. Dr. An suggests drinking plenty of water, monitoring your caffeine and alcohol intake, having a consistent sleep schedule, getting exercise, and having a healthy diet. “Tracking your headaches can help you devise lifestyle changes,” Dr. An says. “Write down when you get one and what you were doing beforehand.”
See a doctor. If your headaches get in the way of daily life, it’s time to talk to a doctor. Dr. An says the following occurrences should cause someone to seek medical advice: severe headaches that come on quickly; a headache accompanied by fever, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking; a headache increasing in severity despite rest and pain medication; taking pain relievers more than twice a week; certain actions like bending over or coughing that bring on a headache. Use natural therapies. “Many natural therapies can be useful,” Dr. An says. “Your headache specialist may suggest stress management such as relaxation exercises and meditation, physical therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, biofeedback, massage or acupuncture.”