Headaches 101: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Management - North Shore-LIJ

Almost everyone gets headaches – about 95 percent of women and 90 percent of men, according to the American Headache Society. They can be related to stress, diet, the environment or a symptom of another medical condition. For most, headaches go away with the use of over-the-counter medications or even a soothing bath, but for others, intense headaches happen often and make completing daily tasks next to impossible.

A migraine is a powerful headache, typically in one area of the head that can cause light and sound sensitivity, nausea and vomiting, which can sustain for hours or days.  Some migraines come with early warning signs called auras, which display as flashes of light, tingling in the arms or legs, and blind spots.

Approximately 18 percent of women have migraines – compared to 6 percent of men. It is not clear why women are more likely to have migraines but some studies have linked chronic migraines to hormones or genetics.

While the causes of headaches remain unknown, there are many triggers. What triggers a headache or migraine is based on the individual and can range from missing a meal to the weather. For some the over use of over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or NSAIDs cause chronic migraines. Identifying triggers is important to figuring out how to tackle the condition.

If you find yourself having headaches more than 15 days out of the month for three months, it’s important to talk to your doctor about any pains you are having.  Chronic migraines should be treated by a medical professional. Less than 50 percent of people with migraines are actually diagnosed.  If you speak to your primary care physician or OB/GYN about having migraines often or pain that makes it hard to cope, they can connect you with a specialist who can work with you to get your migraine pain under control.

The Headache Center, which is part of North Shore-LIJ’s Cushing Neuroscience Institute, specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of hard-to-treat migraines. The specialists at the center work with patients to create individualized care plan that include behavior modification, medications and in some cases surgical implants.

The Headache Center also helps patients come up with systems to reduce triggers and relaxation methods to manage the headaches at home.