David Poon, BSc. Immunology and Infection, PharmD Student
Headaches and Migraines
At some point in our lives, most of us will experience a headache. Whenever this happens, the first thing we think of is medication since it usually does the trick for most people. For those fortunate enough to never get headaches, they usually present as mild to moderate pain affecting both sides of the head and usually are pressing, rather than pulsating in nature. Migraines, on the other hand, usually only affect one side of the head and are associated with moderate to severe pain, as well as other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, discomfort/pain in the eyes due to light and discomfort/pain in the ears due to sound.
When Should I Be Worried?
Problems may occur if you find that your headaches or migraines are occurring more frequently or are suddenly becoming more severe. There are certain red flags to look out for when a headache or migraine occurs that signal when a more thorough assessment may be warranted:
- Middle-aged to elderly patients
- Abrupt headache onset and severe pain
- Increased severity of headaches
- Increased frequency of headaches
- Major change in headache pattern
- Reduced consciousness and stiff neck
- Fever and a general feeling of sickness
If any of the above happen to you, an assessment by your healthcare professional is recommended. There could be an underlying problem causing your recurring headaches or migraine.
So what’s the problem with using medications everyday? I need medication to relieve my headache/migraine! The problem is that overuse of medications used to treat headaches can actually cause your headaches or migraines to occur more frequently. The best way to prevent medication-overuse headaches or migraines if you use Advil or Tylenol medications for your headaches is to limit the use of these medications to less than 15 days of the month. If you were prescribed an opioid (morphine, codeine, tramadol, etc.) or triptan (sumatriptan, zolmitriptan, etc.) to treat your headaches, it’s recommended to use them less than 10 days of the month. If you find that you’re using these medications more frequently, don’t lose hope! Tell your healthcare professional because there are other medications available that can be safely used for a longer period of time that you may be able to try.
The Bottom Line
Headaches and migraines are nuisances that can interrupt our busy lives. It’s important to keep track of how many headaches or migraines you have in a month. If you’re finding that your headaches or migraines are becoming a persistent problem that requires medication use, speak to your healthcare professional. It’s better to address the problem sooner rather than later.
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- Purdy, A. (2018). Headache in Adults. RxTx.