June is National Migraine & Headache Awareness Month (MHAM). Headache disorders are some of the most common disorders of the nervous system. The WHO states that 1 in 7 adults worldwide are affected by migraines, and that they directly affect approximately 2% of the world population (more than 1 billion) with huge socioeconomic impact. Migraine and chronic headache is the second most frequently identified cause of short-term absence for non-manual employees, and amongst the five leading causes of emergency department visits. It has been identified as the leading cause of years lived with a disability in people under the age of 50.
Migraine often starts at puberty and mostly affects adults in their productive years (it can be 3 times more common in women than men), but it can also be present in children and the elderly.
Symptoms range from excruciating migraines, dull and throbbing head pain, piercing cluster pain, neck pain and tension, nausea, and hypersensitivity to light, sound and smells .When left unresolved, headaches and migraines can lead to depression, isolation and self-medication. Migraine remains undiagnosed and undertreated in at least 50% of patients, and less than 50% of migraine patients consult a physician.
These headaches can range from some minor discomfort all the way to a debilitating migraine. Headaches and migraines alike can be caused by a multitude of things, such as caffeine intake, lack of sleep, computer screens, diet, alcohol consumption, allergies, stress and anxiety.
But how do you differentiate between a headache and a migraine? According to the National Headache Foundation, a migraine is considered a chronic and episodic disorder that consists of recurrent headaches lasting four to 72 hours, typically occurring on one side of your head, and decreasing your ability to function in everyday situations.
Because a headache or migraine can completely throw off your day if it does not go away, people tend to take measures into their own hands to try to get rid of the headache on their own. Although resorting to over-the-counter headache medications and an extra cup or two of coffee may seem like the logical thing to do, overdoing it can make your pain linger even longer and/or cause rebound headaches.
Each person is unique. Therefore, headaches are also unique to each individual. It is important to take note of potential causes such as what you ate that day, your caffeine and water consumption, how much sleep you got the night before, your stress levels, and allergies. Tracking these things in a journal can help your physician decide on what types of treatment to try. Migraine requires a diagnosis by a physician. While treatments are available for migraines, it can take time to find one that works for you.
You should consult your physician if you experience the following:
- You usually have two or more headaches a week
- You take a pain reliever for your headaches most days
- Your headaches are disabling
- You need more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter pain remedies to relieve your headaches
- Your headache pattern changes or your headaches worsen
Seek prompt medical care (urgent care or emergency room) if your headache:
- Is sudden and severe
- Gets worse despite rest and pain medication
- Follows a head injury
- Accompanies a fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking
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