I hate the subject of headache pain, however, I consider headaches important enough to write about them today. Also, my events calendar says this week is Headache Awareness Week. This is such an odd name for a week, because when we suffer a headache, we are very well aware of the pain. Our focus of attention shifts from outer events and other people, to inner sensations and ourselves.
As we well know, a headache is an unhappy event that can greatly hinder our productivity and feelings of well-being. We want it to go away as soon as possible. If anybody informs you that you’re having a “minor headache”, you tell them there’s no such thing as a minor headache.
Headaches were a big deal in my family. Mom used to suffer them several times per week. She was not diagnosed with migraines, but she did visit the family physician frequently because of them. I used to wonder if analgesic commercials on television made her more mentally prone to have headaches. Aspirin and pain pill commercials were a mainstay of daytime soap opera broadcasting in those days.
When I started to get headaches, I noticed pill commercials. I made the connection. Everytime a headache commercial began, I left the room. Eventually, I limited television viewing to only an hour or so each day. I didn’t have any headaches for many years. Perhaps I didn’t have headaches because I watched little or no teevee.
Then, in 1998, I started to get terrible, debilitating headaches. Even the maximum recommended doses of over the counter headache pills failed to cure them. Usually I had to brave them in order to go to work. A few times, the headaches were so severe that I had to stay home from the job. I soon suspected that they were migraines, so it was time to consult my physician.
The doctor could find no obvious cause. But I mentioned that the worst headaches happened after especially sound sleeps. If I went to bed after a particularly physically strenuous day, I’d awaken the next day with a blinding headache. This description gave him the idea to set up an appointment with the sleep laboratory for a sleep analysis.
I had never heard of sleep apnea until the end of the sleep session at the hospital. The doctor who observed me at rest suggested I had severe sleep disorders, including sleep apnea. She then referred me to a sleep therapist. That therapist prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Sure enough, once I became accustomed to the machine, the headaches vanished. The only remaining headaches I had were “normal” tension headaches once per month or less frequently.
That’s why I recommend following the advice by the medical establishment to follow up on severe and chronic headaches with a visit to the doctor. There is a chance that the sufferer may have a serious or life-threatening condition.
Non-migraine type headaches afflict about 80-percent of the human population on a regular basis. The remaining 20-percent may be migraine sufferers. Migraine disease is considered seperately from other types because its causes and symptoms are different from the others. There is also a Migraine Awareness Week that takes place in September.
The “regular” or tension headaches fall into three types:
1. Episodic–these happen less than once per month and are triggered by anger, anxiety, fatigue, or stress. Relaxation or over the counter medication relieves this type of headache.
2. Frequent–these happen several times each month. Sometimes they are the prelude to a migraine attack. The main danger of these is the temptation to overuse over the counter medications.
3. Chronic–these are the type of headaches my mother suffered. They happen 15 or more days each month. These often evolve from frequent headaches. The causes are varied, so a visit to the family physician is highly recommended.
So, when should a person visit a doctor about headache pain?
First and most importantly, if the headache is sudden and very severe. Secondly, if the headaches are persistent when you were previously headache-free. Third, if it is in conjunction with feverish illness. Fourth, if it happens after a head injury or other severe injury. Fifth, if the headache is accompanied by weakness, numbness, or affects the vision. Sixth, if it interferes with your work and social life. Seventh, if you need to take medication more than twice per week to alleviate headache pain. If headache pain is becoming worrisome, it’s probably time to visit the doctor about it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.