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Now, Ain’t That a Kick in the Head!

We sorted out the primary headache categories: tension-type, migraines and trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (TACs).  Now let’s take on the secondary type, the ones that are the result of another health problem, the ones that mean you may need professional medical care.

Before we go into more details with the secondary types, however, let’s recap.  Headaches are one of the most common forms of pain known to man.  They range from annoying and occasional to excruciating and constant.  They sometimes come with  a special effects team and have all sorts of interesting features –  sensitivity to light, vomiting, confusion, tingling, muscle weakness on one side of the body and so on.  There is also the well documented and much feared ‘hot poker in the eye’ sort of headache.  Fun stuff!

There is nothing like seasonal and weather changes, together with all the heating and cooling and  humidity ups and downs,  to set off headaches.  Add the stress and pressure of the holiday season to the mix and we have liftoff.  Gather the family around, drink too much at the office party, overspend a bit…it’s a wonder we survive at all.

Okay.  Back to secondary headaches.  Again, these are the result of another health condition and are sometimes indicative of a serious underlying disorder – brain tumor, head injury, blood vessel problems (think stroke), seizure or inflammation from an infection (think meningitis).  The symptoms that require prompt medical attention include:

  • Sudden onset of powerful, severe headache.
  • Headache accompanied by double vision, confusion, weakness or loss of sensation in any part of the body.
  • Headache associated with loss of consciousness.
  • Severe headache accompanied by fever, vomiting or nausea or a stiff neck unrelated to another illness.
  • Headache that worsens over time, or changes in pattern.
  • Recurring headache in children.
  • Headache following a head injury.
  • Headache associated with shortness of breath.
  • Two or more headaches per week.
  • Headache associated with convulsions.
  • Two or more headaches per week.
  • Persistent headaches in a person who has not previously had them, especially someone over 50.
  • New headaches in someone with a history of cancer or HIV/AIDS.
There are all sorts of  treatments for headache symptoms in Western medicine‘s arsenal.  We are going to go over some of the alternative and lesser known treatments here, but under no circumstances should you ever replace conventional medical treatment for your headaches with an unproven CAM approach.  Ever.  Even if the infomercial is compelling beyond description.  Even if all your friends swear by it.  Even if every online site touts its miraculous benefits.  The best way to use CAM treatments is with your doctor’s help and consent.  That’s with, not (secretly) against, not without telling him or her.  
And if you are seriously considering CAM for your headaches, here are some other recommendations:
  • Speak with your health care providers if you are pregnant or nursing and thinking about using any dietary supplements or herbal remedies.
  • There are a surprising number of common supplements that may interact with conventional medical treatments.  Again, be sure to let your heath care providers know what you are taking or considering taking.
  • If you are thinking of trying a practitioner-provided CAM therapy – acupuncture, biofeedback or the like – ask a trusted source for a referral.  Such a trusted source includes your own doctor or a nearby hospital or clinic.  Take the time to find out all you can about the training and experience of any and all CAM therapists or  practitioners you are considering. Go here for more information: NCCAM/Selecting a Practitioner.
  • One more time: be sure to tell all your health care providers about any complementary and alternative products, remedies and practices you use.  Let them know exactly what you do to manage and maintain your health.  You want safe, coherent and coordinated care.  If you need some additional tips, check out this page: NCCAM/Time To Talk
Next time: CAM headache therapies and the science behind them.
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