Tennova Healthcare is marking National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month by helping distinguish between a migraine headache and the more common tension headache. Recognizing the differences between the two is important because it can mean faster relief through more appropriate treatment.
“A typical tension headache is characterized by mild to moderate pain in your head that may be accompanied by a sensation of pressure,” said Thea Cross, M.D., a neurologist with Tennova Neurosciences. “It can be brief — 30 minutes or less — or it can last considerably longer, up to a few days.”
Treatment for tension-type headaches often involves over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Alternative therapies, including ice packs, massage, biofeedback and relaxation techniques, may also bring relief.
“Migraine attacks are more intense and cause significant pain,” Cross said. “They are divided into two categories — migraines with aura and migraines without aura. Aura refers to sensory warning symptoms, which often begin between 10 and 30 minutes before the throbbing headache, such as flashes of light or ringing in your ears.”
In addition to the intense pain, which usually affects only one side of the head, migraine sufferers may have these accompanying symptoms:
• Nausea or vomiting;
• Pain that has a pulsating, throbbing sensation;
• Lightheadedness, sometimes followed by fainting;
• Sensitivity to light, sound, motion and smells; and
• Blurred vision.
“Migraine sufferers may find relief by lying down in a quiet, dark environment,” Cross said. “Small amounts of caffeine have been known to facilitate a reduction in pain, as have hot or cold compresses, and over-the-counter remedies. Chronic migraine sufferers may be prescribed preventive medications; and, more recently, botulinum toxin (BOTOX) injections have been found to be effective in managing migraine headaches for people who have 15 or more days of headaches each month.”
Cross stresses the importance of headache prevention. These lifestyle modifications may help:
• Drink plenty of water every day and limit caffeine intake;
• Eat a healthy diet and do not skip meals, which can lead to a drop in blood sugar;
•Get regular exercise;
• Maintain a regular sleep schedule, if possible, even on weekends; and
• Avoid headache triggers, which may include red wine, beer, cheese, smoked foods, wheat products, monosodium glutamate, and artificial sweeteners.
“Headaches can be a mild inconvenience or a debilitating experience,” Cross said. “Understanding your symptoms, taking preventive measures, and seeking appropriate treatments can help to reduce both the severity of your headaches and the likelihood of recurrence.”
If you suffer from frequent headaches, talk to your doctor. For a referral to a migraine specialist, call 1-855-TENNOVA (836-6682) or visit Tennova.com.