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Are your Headaches Giving you a Headache?

June 21, 2011 12:59 PM with Dr. Steven Meyers

Dr. Steven Meyers, neurologist, answers your questions about headaches. Learn when you should see your doctor and how you can recognize the triggers, pain and associated symptoms for relief. Your participation and questions are welcomed.

Catherine (Moderator) - 12:51 PM:
Welcome! Today’s chat: “Are your Headaches Giving you a Headache?” will begin shortly. Please start submitting your questions and Dr. Steven Meyers will begin answering them as soon as we get started. While you are waiting for the chat to begin, feel free to visit the Neurological Institute to obtain more information about headaches. We will do our best to answer all of your questions, but because this is such a popular chat, the physician may not be able to answer all of your questions in the time allowed. Your understanding is greatly appreciated.

  Jeri (Chicago, IL) - 12:57 PM:
What can I do to shorten a migraine?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
The most effective way to shorten the duration of a migraine attack is to treat as early as possible. Once a migraine has been present for a while, it becomes much harder to treat. Try not to wait to see if this headache will go away on its own. once you know you are having a migraine, take your medication as soon as possible.

  Shah (Chicago, IL) - 1:00 PM:
I have very bad headaches, my doctor said I have both tension headaches and migranes - what should I do?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
Research tells us that in most patients who have both tension and migraine headaches that all the headaches are actually migraines and should be treated as such. Depending on how frequent headaches are, taking medications to reduce the frequency may be helpful.

  Diana (Evanston, IL) - 1:03 PM:
What is the newest most effective, preventative medication on the market for migraines. Also, where is the best place to go in the Chicagoland area to get help for migraines?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
The most effective preventative is the one that works best for the individual. Old medications may work better than new ones. The "newest" treatment that has been approved by the FDA for migraine is Botox injections which are only approved for patients with greater than 15 days of migraine each month. I always recommend that patients start with their primary care doctor. The majority of migraine patients are successfully managed by their personal physicians who know them best.

  Rachel (Skokie, IL) - 1:07 PM:
I’ve been experiencing headaches periodically at the same time every day. Could there be an underlying problem? Is this something I should ask my doctor about?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
It is not that unusual for patients to only get headaches at specific times of the day. This is true for several of the primary headache disorders such as migraine and cluster headache. This is something to discuss with your doctor.

  Jason (Glenbrook, IL) - 1:12 PM:
Can headaches cause memory loss?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
Complaints of cognitive impairment are not that unusual during migraine. You can imagine that if someone is in a great deal of pain they may not be focused on what is happening around them and appear to have memory loss. Migraine is a complicated brain event that can cause people to not think as clearly as normal. In addition, some of the medications used to treat headaches can also impair judgement. Of course, there are many brain diseases which may have both memory loss and headache as symptoms so this should always be evaluated by a doctor.

  Lisa (Chicago, IL) - 1:18 PM:
I get migraines from time to time. It will first start off with flashes of lights and I'll usually throw up. I feel fine within an hour or two. Do you know what could possible trigger these, or if it has a certain classification?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
You are describing migraine with aura. The aura refers to the visual disturbance you describe which occurs in about 15-30% of migraine sufferers. Identifying triggers in a given individual can be difficult. Many different foods, weather changes, sleep disturbances, and in women, menstrual changes can all trigger attacks. Common food triggers include alcohol, particularly beer and red wine, aged cheeses, heavily processed foods that contain MSG, sausages, chocolate, and Nutrasweet. Keeping a headache diary and recording what you have eaten in the hours prior to a migraine may help you identify a specific trigger but many if not most migraine sufferers do not have an identifiable trigger.

  Perri (Naperville, IL) - 1:22 PM:
Is there a connection between migraines/headaches and alcohol?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
Alcohol is a common trigger of migraine. Beer and red wine are the most commonly identified triggers. Clear alcohols such as vodka and gin seem less likely to trigger attacks but can still do so.

  Jen (Chicago) - 1:24 PM:
I frequently get migraines and I am trying to best determine when they occur & what causes them. Are there any specific triggers I should look for?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
It is important to remember that most patients never identify a specific trigger. Also, even if you have a trigger, it is not usually always. A particular food may only trigger an attack once is a while which makes it even more difficult. Common triggers include alcohol, aged cheeses, sausage meats, organ meats, heavily processed foods containing MSG, chocolate, and Nutrasweet. Other triggers include stress, weather changes, alteration in sleep patterns, missing meals, and the menstrual cycle. Keep a diary. Every time you have a headache record it on a calendar. Think back over the past 24 hours and record what you ate or anything that stands out as unusual. Over time you may find a pattern.

  Stephanie (Glenview, IL) - 1:30 PM:
I heard caffeine is good for a headache. Is this true?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
Headache is a double edged sword. It can be both good and bad. Many headache medications contain caffeine which definitely makes these medications work better. Many patients find having a cup of coffee or other caffeine containing beverage with their medication helps it work better. Unfortunately, too much caffeine can also cause headache or make them worse. Over use of caffeine can lead to what is called rebound headache or medication induced headache. If you have frequent headaches, limiting the amount of caffeine you consume may help reduce the frequency and severity of the attacks.

  Michelle (Forest Park, IL) - 1:35 PM:
My son is 14 and was prescribed Maxalt. Is he old enough to use it?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
Maxalt is FDA approved for use in adults over the age of 18 but is very commonly used in adolescents and even children without difficulty.

  Bill (Oak Park, IL) - 1:36 PM:
I usually have headaches when I wake up in the morning. Is there a way I can prevent this?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
There are several reasons someone may waken with headache. Migraine can certainly occur during the night. Sometimes neck problems can cause people to waken with headache and some find relief with special pillows. Sleep apnea is a condition where people do not breath properly at night. People with sleep apnea may snore excessively and headaches upon awakening is a common symptoms. A variety of other brain disorders may also cause headaches which are present upon arising and this should be evaluated by your doctor. If nothing is found, then a preventative medication taken at bedtime might be effective.

  Christian (Chicago, IL) - 1:39 PM:
I've been taking Topamax for 2 months now, and I still get migraines. Any reasons why?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
No medication works for everybody and it is not unusual to have to try several medications until the one that works is found. Additionally, the dose necessary varies greatly from person to person. This should be discussed with your doctor.

  Dan (Evanston, IL) - 1:43 PM:
Do headaches affect children differently than adults?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
Yes they can depending on the age of the child. Migraines tend to be of shorter duration in children than adults. By definition, migraine in adults has to last at least 4 hours while headaches in children are frequently much shorter. Some young children may experience attacks of abdominal pain and vomiting without headache or attacks of dizziness without headache that may be due to migraine.

  Brian (Chicago, IL) - 1:46 PM:
I work outside in the sun, but I make sure to stay hydrated with water and electrolytes. However, when I got back inside I have an excruciating headache. Anyway to prevent?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
You are doing the right things. Avoiding dehydration is very important under these circumstances. While not common, I have seen patients who get headaches when entering a room with air conditioning. Gradually cooling down rather than a sudden movement from the heat to a cold environment might help if possible. Additionally, in some it is the bright sunlight that is the problem so wearing sunglasses helps.

  Claire (Skokie, IL) - 1:49 PM:
Are headaches related to menstruation?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
They can be. Many women who have migraines report that they are more likely to get a migraine at certain times of the month, usually with menstruation or midcycle with ovulation. Some women only get headaches with menstruation. I have seen many women who consider it "normal" to get a headache with menstruation. Most of these are migraines.

Catherine (Moderator) - 1:50 PM:
Thank you everyone for your great participation, the chat will be ending in approximately 10 minutes. Please submit any final questions you have.

  Stephanie (Glenview, IL) - 1:51 PM:
What are other ways to get rid of a headache other than medication?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
There are several non medication treatments that help some patients. Sleep is a very effective treatment. Most patients get some relief lying down in a quiet, darkened room. Applying ice or heat can help. Some patient practice a variety of relaxation exercises, deep breathing, or meditation for relief.

  Bill (Oak Park, IL) - 1:54 PM:
Are there certain triggers for headaches that affect everyone?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
Triggers are usually very individualized. What triggers a headache in one person may not in another.

  Dan (Evanston, IL) - 1:57 PM:
Usually when I’m sick I have a fever and a headache. Could there be an underlying issue?
Dr. Steven Meyers (NorthShore)
Fever with headache is always concerning. This usually suggests an infection but if this is a longstanding pattern than it is less likely a serious problem, but you should speak to your doctor about it.

Catherine (Moderator) - 2:00 PM:
Thank you again for participating in our chat today. For more information please visit our Neurological Institute pages.

Also, a transcript of this chat will be available shortly.

This chat has ended.

Thank you very much for your participation.