1 ques­tion + 2 ex­perts = 360˚ so­lu­tion I’m plagued with headaches. What can I do?

Best Health - - CON­TENTS - by JILL BUCH­NER


A headache com­ing on, take a pain re­liever that is also an anti-in­flam­ma­tory right away. You’ll need 600 to 800 mil­ligrams of ibupro­fen or 975 mil­ligrams of acetyl­sal­i­cylic acid (ASA). Though you may want to tough it out and see how bad the headache will be­come first, you’re more likely to over­med­i­cate if you wait un­til the pain es­ca­lates.

For the most part, headaches are be­nign and can be man­aged with over-the-counter med­i­ca­tions, but if you ex­pe­ri­ence them reg­u­larly, you may need to see a doc­tor. Typ­i­cally, headaches only sig­nal some­thing se­ri­ous if you sud­denly start to get them and didn’t used to (par­tic­u­larly if you’re over 50) or if the pain is ac­com­pa­nied by blind­ness, paral­y­sis, numb­ness or dif­fi­culty speak­ing. Tell your doc­tor if you have these symp­toms and she may re­quest an MRI or a CT scan to en­sure that there are no ab­nor­mal­i­ties in the brain.

If you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a long-term pat­tern of headaches, start a jour­nal to track what pre­cedes the pain and find out how to limit those con­trib­u­tors. Com­mon trig­gers in­clude lack of sleep or too much sleep, changes in weather, loud noise, flick­er­ing lights, strong odours, caf­feine with­drawal, ni­trites in pro­cessed meats and MSG. How­ever, nar­row­ing down your trig­gers can be com­pli­cated be­cause they often work to­gether and may co­in­cide with other fac­tors that are quite in­di­vid­ual, such as stress. If you think your si­nuses are to blame, it’s more likely that you’re get­ting mi­graines, which can cause the blood ves­sels in your si­nuses to di­late and lead to con­ges­tion and runny nose.

If over-the-counter drugs don’t help, a doc­tor may pre­scribe a fast-act­ing anti-in­flam­ma­tory or trip­tan, both of which are de­signed to re­lieve mi­graine pain. If you find your­self tak­ing meds for headaches more than four times a month, a pre­ven­tive med­i­ca­tion can also be pre­scribed. In many cases, after about nine months of tak­ing this drug, you can grad­u­ally wean your­self off the med­i­ca­tion if your headaches no longer oc­cur more than four times a month. Dr. Paul E. Cooper is chief of clin­i­cal neu­ro­log­i­cal sci­ences at Lon­don Health Sci­ences Cen­tre.


A treat the root of health prob­lems. When it comes to headaches, there are so many po­ten­tial causes that we need to start with a very thor­ough his­tory. We look over your com­plete health his­tory to find any fac­tors that may con­trib­ute to or pre­cip­i­tate headaches. Some pa­tients may no­tice that their headaches de­velop after a change in the weather, while oth­ers may no­tice that they be­gin after start­ing a new med­i­ca­tion or en­ter­ing menopause. Some­times pa­tients come in with headaches that start after a fall or other phys­i­cal in­jury.

Of course, it’s not al­ways clear to the pa­tient what may be caus­ing the headaches. A com­plete phys­i­cal exam that in­cludes the neck, eyes, ears, spine and car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem is the next step to look for sight is­sues, trig­ger points or mus­cle knots. Dur­ing the exam, a natur­opath will look for is­sues like tem­poro­mandibu­lar joint (TMJ) syn­drome (a pain in the jaw often caused by grind­ing or clench­ing) or strain caused by hunch­ing over a com­puter at work. When a prob­lem like this is dis­cov­ered, a natur­opath may rec­om­mend acupunc­ture or mas­sage ther­apy to re­lax the mus­cles or sug­gest a chi­ro­prac­tic ad­just­ment or phys­io­ther­apy ex­er­cises.

If there’s no clear ex­ter­nal rea­son for the headaches, a blood test is the next step to de­ter­mine if there’s an in­ter­nal is­sue, such as vi­ta­min de­fi­cien­cies, ane­mia, de­hy­dra­tion or food sen­si­tiv­i­ties. Foods like dairy and chem­i­cals like MSG and ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers are com­mon trig­gers. Pa­tients who re­act to cer­tain foods may no­tice gas or bloat­ing around the time they de­velop a headache, and a blood test can con­firm it.

If no is­sues are ev­i­dent from the phys­i­cal exam or blood test, a more sub­tle trig­ger, such as hor­mones or changes in baro­met­ric pres­sure, might be to blame. Though these aren’t fac­tors that can be eas­ily avoided, there are things you can do to re­duce in­flam­ma­tion and spasms in blood ves­sels, which are the bod­ily re­sponses that un­der­lie headaches. B vi­ta­mins can help di­late of blood ves­sels, while mag­ne­sium helps re­lax blood ves­sels. Herbs like fever­few and but­ter­bur can also help de­crease in­flam­ma­tion and the re­ac­tiv­ity of blood ves­sels, which could help re­duce the fre­quency of your headaches. Dr. San­jay Mo­han Ram is a natur­o­pathic doc­tor at Cross Roads Natur­o­pathic Clinic in Van­cou­ver.

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