Here's why you get headaches - and how to prevent your next headache

Here’s why you get headaches – and how to prevent your next headache

There is a frequent and familiar sound in my house, I know it as I know the flick of the key in the front door. It’s the low squeak to open the medicine cabinet, followed by the rattle of an oversized pill bottle. Several times a week, at least one person in my house has a headache. Are you also experiencing a headache of this moment, even as you read these words? The odds are good that you do.

In April, an anecdotal review from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology published in the Journal of Headache and Pain revealed that every day “15.8% of the world’s population suffers from headaches, and nearly half of these individuals suffer from migraines (7).%).” The Australian Standard notes strictly This means that 1.1 billion people suffer from headaches today. As the study’s lead author, Lars Jacob Stofner, said in a press release, “The prevalence of headache disorders remains high worldwide, and the burden of different types may affect many.”

“Every day, 15.8% of the world’s population suffers from headaches, and nearly half of those report a migraine.”

Over the years, I’ve come to accept headaches, so I’ve rarely, if ever, thought much of my life. I’m hungry, I’m eating. I’m tired, I’m relieved. I have a headache, I take Excedrin. That’s just how the days go, right? But on a very sunny afternoon, I found myself among the 7% of people around the world every day who suffer from migraines. As I closed my eyes and sobbed softly at the snack bar of a local target, I remembered that just because the condition is common, it doesn’t make it inevitable—or easily managed.

More than half of us have had headaches in the past year, and according to a Northwestern Medicine report, headaches are “more common, lasting longer, and more frequent in women.” We are also more likely to get migraines. It’s not just the COVID-19 virus that’s causing acetaminophen to fly off the shelves, it’s our heads.

Related: One-fifth of American adults live with chronic pain. Why don’t we talk about it more?

But are headaches really on the rise, or do they feel that way all the time under our tense faces? The authors of the Norwegian study, who reviewed the results of 357 publications, are cautious about drawing conclusions. They note that while “headache disorders remain highly prevalent worldwide,” and that they “found a clear increase in the prevalence of migraines,” there was “significant variance between study results.” For example, populations with greater awareness of migraine disorders report a higher prevalence.

But what seems indisputable is that we are creating a lot of headache-inducing conditions for ourselves all over the place. We typically spend upwards of a dozen hours each day on our devices, staring at text and inhaling blue light. We take in a lot of caffeine — 93% of us consume it at least occasionally, and among those who indulge, 25% of us take it three or more times a day.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons for our lack of sleep. A 2019 Ball State University study found that 35.6% of participants said they slept less than seven hours a night, with police officers and health care workers reporting they slept at five or six. Those numbers haven’t improved in the past two years — a HealthDay survey earlier this year found that a third of respondents said they were more tired now than they were at the start of the pandemic. And 28.5% said they slept less.


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This brings us to the pandemic in the room. A 2021 study by the American Psychological Association found that nearly half of those surveyed said they were more stressed now than in previous years. Stress is the cause of headaches in and of itself, but then you can escalate the problem by dumping whatever stress brings with it. As NPR reported, “More than 40% [of respondents] They said they gained weight during the pandemic. Almost a quarter said they drink more. Nearly two-thirds of them sleep too much or too little.”

Then there is COVID-19 itself. In January, the National Institutes of Health called for “increased research into the underlying causes of lung cancer and possible ways to treat its symptoms,” including neurological symptoms such as headaches. “I felt like my head was going to explode, and there wasn’t enough medication to improve it,” one of those patients told CBC in April.

Is it any wonder your head is splitting? I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. However, I may have become so used to the pain that you naturally made me feel. Let’s not. My recent migraines have been a reminder that it doesn’t have to get that bad before I take my safety seriously, and that preventing pain is much less intrusive than a full-on weekend-ending nervous breakdown.

The hormones, disease, vision problems, and legitimate psychological burden of living during this moment in history can’t always be controlled. Of course, headaches that are persistent, severe, or otherwise severe should be evaluated by a doctor. But there are very simple steps we can take to reduce the risk of the typical headaches that affect so many of us, many of which we probably already know.

Here’s the least expected trick to prevent headaches at all – reconsider how much headache medicine you’re taking.

As the Mayo Clinic advises, get enough sleep. Monitor your caffeine consumption. Exercise and maintain a regular eating schedule. Work to reduce stress. These are the basics, but there are others. Cultivate awareness of your individual triggers. Do some foods seem to bother you? Are bright or flashing lights a problem? (This was the main culprit for my last migraine.) But this is the least expected trick to preventing headaches ever—reconsider how much of the same headache medication you’re taking.

Using headache medications, including over-the-counter products like acetaminophen in addition to migraine medications, “more than two days a week” can cause rebound headaches, according to the Mayo Clinic. Harvard Health describes the problem as a “vicious cycle,” when “the same medications that relieve headache pain at first can cause headaches later if used too often.”

Concerns about the link between overuse and increased pain also made headlines this week when a McGill University study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine warned that “clinical data showed that use of anti-inflammatory drugs was associated with an increased risk of persistent pain, suggesting that anti-inflammatory therapies Inflammation may have negative effects on the duration of pain.” While the study focused on back pain, the implications for other forms of pain warrant deeper investigation.

I’ve been doing my best lately to avoid the migraines that warn of four more anytime soon. I’m also working on making simple daily adjustments to stave off the usual headaches I thought I had to live with, by turning off my laptop a little earlier in the evening and going to bed early. But the biggest change is that I try to open my medicine cabinet less often now, hoping that fewer Excedrin bottle rattles will, somehow in time, lead to fewer occasions I feel like reaching.

More on pain and how to treat it:

2022-05-14 18:00:00

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