I’ve had a theme this week! I’ve been seeing a lot of patients with chronic headaches. I thought I’d review a little about headache for you. I know a lot of people suffer with headaches without understanding much about them.
First of all, chronic daily headache is defined as having a headache on 3 or more days per week. That’s a lot of headache days! By the time people come in to see me, often it has progressed to a constant headache. Usually the patient has tried just about every over-the-counter medication available, with no relief. Some people have taken so much ibuprofen that they are also suffering with heartburn and upper abdominal pain from ulcers and reflux.
There are three “types” of headache and all three can progress to chronic daily headache. By the time the headache is chronic it can be tough to sort out which type started it all, and honestly it doesn’t really matter in the chronic setting.
The most common type of headache is tension-type. It generally is described as “tight” or “band-like.” This type also often affects the neck and upper back with tight, sore muscles. It is usually associated with stress.
Another type of headache is migraine-type. This type almost always starts in teens and young adults. In women it may be tied to the menstrual cycle (so-called “menstrual migraine”). Usually it is on one side of the head, centered around the eye, and pounding or throbbing in quality. Bright lights and loud sounds can make the headache worse. It may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Usually going to sleep in a dark, quiet room helps these headaches.
The third major headache type is sinus headache. Anybody who has had a horrible cold with sinus pain and pressure knows what this feels like. People who suffer with chronic allergies or who have a cold or sinus infection are the ones who get this type of headache. It generally is located in the forehead or upper cheeks, is associated with a stuffy and/or runny nose, and is relieved by decongestants.
So now that we know the different types of headache, what makes a tension headache turn into a chronic headache? Nobody really knows for sure. We do know that stress and sleep problems predispose to headache. We also know that headaches (migraine in particular) run in families. There is also evidence that nutritional deficiencies predispose to chronic headaches.
There is a gene mutation that seems to make people need more B vitamins. It was first diagnosed in people who have early heart disease and a problem called hyperhomocysteinemia (yep, not only can I say it, I can spell it too LOL!). It’s interesting to find that not only do these folks tend to have high blood homocysteine which accelerates heart disease, they also suffer chronic headaches. Giving them high-dose B vitamins helps their headaches as well as brings their homocysteine levels down.
I read a really cool study where they checked chronic headache sufferers for the gene and treated them with high-dose B vitamins to see if the headaches responded, and they did. But they also treated the headache sufferers that did NOT have the gene and found that they got better too!
So what do I do for somebody who has been suffering with chronic headaches? After I make sure they don’t have a brain tumor (!) I give them a couple of pieces of advice. First they need to make sure they’re getting enough sleep at night. Stress management is also helpful (check here for more info).
The first “pills” I put chronic headache sufferers on are a high-quality B complex and a multivitamin. And it works! Only very rarely do I need to progress to any prescription medications. Patients are very happy with such a safe and natural treatment 🙂
Since I work closely with the Shaklee Corporation (check here for the reasons why) I always recommend their products. I have found that many people coming in to talk about headaches are already taking a store-brand multivitamin, but when they make the switch they feel better. Will a better brand of vitamin make a difference for you? Try it and see! Follow this link to choose the products that are best for you.