Best Health


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



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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