Headaches are the number 3 reason women ages 18 to 44 go to emergency rooms, and the fifth-leading cause of emergency room visits among all Americans, according to a 2013 National Institutes of Health report, which calls headaches a major public health problem.
“The key to preventing headaches is, of course, to figure out what’s triggering them,” says Dr. Romie Mushtaq, a neurologist, mind-body physician and an expert in Mindful Living. “While migraine and stress headaches can both be triggered by stress, migraines have many other possible triggers and they vary from one individual to the next.”
Dr. Romie has counseled thousands of headache sufferers and recently launched a six-week online seminar, Heal Your Headaches. She guides participants through ruling out various triggers, and shares traditional and holistic treatment options, among other information.
“It’s so important to educate people who suffer from headaches, especially migraines. There are many misconceptions about them,” she says. “I’ve had patients tell me they don’t have migraines because their headache isn’t accompanied by vomiting. Or they’ve been told they just have a low threshold for pain, even that they have no willpower!”
Dr. Romie advises patients to begin ruling out possible triggers.
“Start eliminating common food triggers from your diet, such as wine, chocolate and gluten, and if the headaches become less frequent or go away altogether, slowly add each item back,” she says. “It may quickly become apparent what’s triggering your headaches.”
If not, she shares other possible triggers people are not aware of:
• Are you getting enough sleep?
Migraines can be triggered by sleep deprivation. A lack of sleep can actually lead to structural changes in the proteins of the brain that make the trigeminal nerve more sensitive to pain. The trigeminal nerve supplies sensation to the face, head and meninges – the membranes surrounding the brain — and it is the nerve pathway that is the foundation of the where migraine headaches start.
When we are stressed, our sleep gets disturbed, and headaches are often one of the first signs. Creating a routine at night to reduce stress prior to bedtime is a key. If you can’t sleep because of headache pain, talk to your doctor about the temporary use of sleep-aid medications.
Also, avoid caffeine after 12 p.m.
• Are you drinking enough water?
If you start feeling pressure or a dull headache at work, especially in the afternoon, it may be that you’re not drinking enough water during the day. Dehydration can cause fatigue, loss of focus and mid-day stress, which can trigger headaches, including migraines. Be sure to drink water throughout the day.
If you’re having trouble identifying your headache trigger, consider this natural therapy:
• Feverfew for prevention:
Feverfew is one of many effective herbs studied for preventing migraine headaches — it has been studied in adults, but not children or pregnant women. The typical dose is 85 to 100mg daily. If you’re experiencing more than two migraine headaches a month, you should try this natural supplement. I don’t recommend one brand over another; since brands are not regulated by the FDA, there is no scientific way to prove one is superior to another.
While these tips may help you gain control over your headaches, remember – anyone who has recurring headaches should see a physician, Dr. Romie says.