The Key To Chronic Headache Control

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Is the pain of chronic headaches distracting you from the responsibilities and pleasures of life? At work or school, in recreational pursuits, in relationships — even when you’re trying to sleep? Finding a remedy for chronic headaches usually doesn’t happen overnight. But with the help of your doctor you can, over time, develop a treatment plan to manage the pain and improve your well-being and quality of life.

“A number of factors play a role in chronic headaches, and they vary from one person to the next,” says Bryan Ludwig, MD. “Finding the right treatment strategy will take time and good communication between you and your doctor.”

Complications Of Chronic Headaches

Treatment of chronic headaches can be complicated by additional symptoms that accompany headache pain, he added. “Additional symptoms may include disturbed sleep, dizziness, fatigue, heightened anxiety, difficulty concentrating and pain elsewhere in the body, such as neck, back and abdomen.”

Chronic headache control typically takes weeks to months to achieve — through education, preventive medications, and attention to lifestyle changes. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a specialist and may need to adjust your treatment plan a few times before finding the strategy that works most effectively for you.

Managing Chronic HeadacheThe Key to Chronic Headache Control - In Content

Here are key considerations and examples of common components of chronic headache management:

Sleep. Correcting sleep deficits is often a good, effective starting point for treating chronic headaches. About two-thirds of people with chronic headaches experience sleep disturbance, primarily difficulty falling asleep.

Regulating sleep in older adults has been shown to decrease the frequency of migraine headaches. And adequate sleep eases migraine symptoms for younger patients.

In some cases, physicians prescribe melatonin to help patients fall asleep and relieve headache symptoms. The drug ramelteon, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for insomnia, is being studied for migraine treatment.

Regular exercise. A gradual increase of physical activity — about 10 percent a week — has been shown to be effective in easing migraine symptoms as it improves your physical conditioning.

Headache specialist Richard Kim, MD, offers advice on managing chronic headaches.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Nutrition. Eating on a regular schedule — and avoiding foods that trigger headaches — can help manage chronic headaches. Increased fluid and salt intake can counteract dizziness that is commonly encountered with chronic headaches.

Chronic headache control typically takes weeks to months to achieve.

Support group. A headache support group can help you learn how others manage and live with chronic headache pain and discomfort.

Stress management. Studies show that about half of adults with migraine headaches have symptoms of anxiety, and that controlling stress and anxiety can help treat chronic headaches. In some cases, patients are referred to a psychologist to address anxiety and learn relaxation and stress reduction techniques.

Medications. Over-the-counter pain medicines — effective in treating occasional headaches — are less effective for chronic headache pain. And they may worsen headache symptoms when used more than twice a week.

Triggers. Identifying headache triggers is often a key to preventing and treating headaches, but that’s more difficult for chronic headaches. However, chronic headache sufferers often notice a lightening of symptoms in the summer and a return to worsened symptoms in the fall and winter.

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