Featuring Dr. Natalie Bornstein, WellMed at Trawood, El Paso, Texas
Most people have had a headache at some time in their life. According to the Cleveland Clinic, headache is one of the most common pain conditions in the world. Nearly 75% of the world population has experienced a headache in the last year. Some are mild or infrequent. Others are severe and have you reaching for an over-the-counter remedy.
What causes a headache?
“The tension headache is generally caused by tension in the muscles around the head and neck,” said Dr. Natalie Bornstein, internal medicine physician with WellMed at Trawood in El Paso, Texas. “The pain results from an unknown mechanism which activates specific nerves. The nerves send pain signals to the brain.”
If you suffer from headaches – even occasionally – Dr. Bornstein recommends you pay attention to what you are doing when the headache starts. “Have you been staring at a computer screen for a long time? Are you out in the sun without protecting your eyes with sunglasses? Are you in a noisy or brightly lit environment? The solution might be simple. Change or avoid your environment or what you are doing,” she said.
She recommends taking over-the-counter analgesics only if necessary. Popping a pill every time you feel the slightest twinge of headache is not the best solution.
Headaches vs. migraine; what’s the difference?
Migraine headaches are less common than a tension headache; still, as much as 15% of the population suffers from them.
“While we know that headaches are a condition brought on by tension and stress, migraines are a disease that starts in the nerve endings and can be very severe,” Dr. Bornstein says. “There are a lot of theories about what causes a migraine, and there’s a lot of interest and research in the area of migraines right now.”
Although migraines are treatable, they can be disruptive and debilitating. “Some people can suffer from migraines up to 15 days a month. With others they are less frequent, but anyone who suffers with migraines should be under the care of their primary physician to start,” she said.
The risk factors
According to Dr. Bornstein, there are risk factors that make some people more susceptible to migraines and headaches:
- High stress level
- Gender: Women are more prone to migraine because of the influence of hormones.
- Hereditary: Up to 80% of people who get migraine headaches have a relative with the disease.
- Age: Those between the ages of 30 to 40 are most susceptible.
What triggers headaches and migraines?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, common triggers of tension headaches or migraines include:
- Alcohol use
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Emotional stress
- Daily use of pain-relieving medication
- Sensitivity to specific chemicals and preservatives in foods
- Eye, neck or back strain caused by poor posture
- Bright or flashing lights
- Weather changes
- Hormonal changes in women
To lessen the chance of a migraine occurring, some patients are prescribed blood pressure medication, antidepressants, or epilepsy medication. To treat a migraine, there are many remedies available for your doctor to prescribe.
“Migraine treatment has come a long way in the last 20 years,” Dr. Bornstein says. “There are brand new treatments you see advertised a lot right now, and meds that have been around for years. Take triptan medications such as Imitrex or Maxalt as needed. This class of medications treat migraines by blocking pain pathways in the brain. Some patients will also try Botox injections, acupuncture, proactive muscle relaxation and herbal remedies.”
The bottom line, she says, is to see your primary care physician if you are plagued by frequent severe headaches or migraines. When one occurs, take your medication, change your environment, close your eyes, turn off lights or loud sounds, lay down and relax.