News & Events: Member Articles

Headaches
By Carlos DeCarvahlo, MD

“This one is so bad, I never had one like that before”, or “Just a normal headache,” or “I always had sinus headaches,” is the way neurologists and physicians who treat people with headaches frequently hear their complaints. Then there are the ones whose pain level rose to break the camel’s back, so to speak: People frequently live and carry on with their daily routines until the condition goes beyond annoying and becomes disabling. Those are the “sick headaches.”

Sometimes the way headaches are described gives clues that the condition is so frequent that it has become an expected, “normal” part of life. Patients may engage in a day-to-day struggle apparently under the impression that it is not appropriate to complain or even acknowledge their headaches. Many do not realize that there are people who do not suffer from headaches.

Often, over-the-counter remedies such as aspirin or Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will take care of the problem. For a small percentage of individuals, though, treatment, without proper diagnosis, is ineffective. They don’t realize that there are different kinds of headaches or that just one type, migraines, may affect as many as 30 million people in this country.

Fortunately, most headaches are not caused by really serious conditions such as brain tumors, or meningitis, or an accident or injury. In some instances, we may not be able to identify a cause but we do look at factors such as genetics and family traits, environmental conditions, and stress. The physician becomes concerned when the frequent use of the over-the-counter medications produces an analgesic dependence.

Happily, modern research has provided us with more tools to diagnose and treat headaches, including pills that dampen the number of relapses of headaches, and more sophisticated painkillers, with fewer risks. It has also validated other less-than-traditional (in the Western world) treatment modalities such as acupuncture and relaxation therapies. The next time a severe headache tempts you to reach for the usual painkiller, consider calling your doctor instead. Properly diagnosed and treated, headaches don’t have to be a normal part of your life.

Dr. Carlos DeCarvahlo MD
Academy of Medicine of Toledo and Lucas County