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What is causing my headaches?

By Anonymous March 3, 2013 - 12:45pm
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I have had a headache for the last 49 1/2 years that has NRVER quit hurting.I have been to all kinds of Doctors and had all kinds of test run and all they can tell me is that it could be strees. I ask "how can it be stress 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for that many years?" The first Doctor I went to back in 1964 was a neurologist and he told me that there was nothing wrong with my head, that it was something in my system. I would love to know what it is!!! It hurts in my temples, across my forehead, down the back of my neck and when I have one of my real bad headaches, my neck thobs. I know it is my heart beat, but it really, really hurts bad. I sit around holding my hands on each side of my throat. I would love to go to the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic or some special headache clinic and just be their guinia pig. And they would just take whatever my insurance payed.

Do you have any suggestions as to what my problem might be??


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hello Just wanted to let you know that I have sufford from headaches for the last 4 years so I know your pain my Dr just recently sent me to a headache specialist and though i have been put on a numerouse amount of meds before . She started with simple test like blood work , mri , eeg, and a vision check.... She has found that my vision has changed drastically in the past 2 years and that my vitamin D levels were really low also vitamin b12 was low. Two weeks ago she put me on a womans one a day vitamin , b12 , D , and a b complex.. that being said I have gone from being in bed 4 to 5 days a week with my headaches to 2 days a week so She is on the right path. This may be something you might want to have checked if they didn't do so already It has helped me some .. Hope they get better for you soon

best wishes

March 14, 2013 - 11:38am

Hi Judy,

I'm so sorry to hear that you've had to suffer with headaches for almost 50 years. When they're as chronic as you're describing those, they may not even be just headaches anymore, but more like migraines.  

Although much about the cause of migraines isn't understood, genetics and environmental factors seem to both play a role.

Migraines may be caused by changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway. Imbalances in brain chemicals, including serotonin — which helps regulate pain in your nervous system — also may be involved.

Serotonin levels drop during migraine attacks. This may trigger your trigeminal system to release substances called neuropeptides, which travel to your brain's outer covering (meninges). The result is headache pain.

Migraine headache triggers
Whatever the exact mechanism of the headaches, a number of things may trigger them. Common migraine triggers include:

  • Hormonal changes in women.Fluctuations in estrogen seem to trigger headaches in many women with known migraines. Women with a history of migraines often report headaches immediately before or during their periods, when they have a major drop in estrogen. Others have an increased tendency to develop migraines during pregnancy or menopause. Hormonal medications — such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy — also may worsen migraines, though some women find it's beneficial to take them.
  • Foods.Some migraines appear to be triggered by certain foods. Common offenders include alcohol, especially beer and red wine; aged cheeses; chocolate; aspartame; overuse of caffeine; monosodium glutamate — a key ingredient in some Asian foods; salty foods; and processed foods. Skipping meals or fasting also can trigger migraine attacks.
  • Stress.Stress at work or home can instigate migraines.
  • Sensory stimuli.Bright lights and sun glare can induce migraines, as can loud sounds. Unusual smells — including pleasant scents, such as perfume, and unpleasant odors, such as paint thinner and secondhand smoke — can also trigger migraines.
  • Changes in wake-sleep pattern.Either missing sleep or getting too much sleep may serve as a trigger for migraines in some individuals, as can jet lag.
  • Physical factors.Intense physical exertion, including sexual activity, may provoke migraines.
  • Changes in the environment.A change of weather or barometric pressure can prompt a migraine.
  • Medications.Certain medications can aggravate migraines, especially oral contraceptives and vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin.

A variety of drugs have been specifically designed to treat migraines. In addition, some drugs commonly used to treat other conditions also may help relieve or prevent migraines. Medications used to combat migraines fall into two broad categories:

  • Pain-relieving medications. Also known as acute or abortive treatment, these types of drugs are taken during migraine attacks and are designed to stop symptoms that have already begun.
  • Preventive medications. These types of drugs are taken regularly, often on a daily basis, to reduce the severity or frequency of migraines.

Choosing a strategy to manage your migraines depends on the frequency and severity of your headaches, the degree of disability your headaches cause, and your other medical conditions.

Some medications aren't recommended if you're pregnant or breast-feeding. Some aren't used for children. Your doctor can help find the right medication for you.

Pain-relieving medications
For best results, take pain-relieving drugs as soon as you experience signs or symptoms of a migraine. It may help if you rest or sleep in a dark room after taking them:

  • Pain relievers. These medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may help relieve mild migraines. Drugs marketed specifically for migraines, such as the combination of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine (Excedrin Migraine), also may ease moderate migraine pain but aren't effective alone for severe migraines. If taken too often or for long periods of time, these medications can lead to ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding and rebound headaches. The prescription pain reliever indomethacin may help thwart a migraine headache and is available in suppository form, which may be helpful if you're nauseous.
  • Triptans. For many people with migraine attacks, triptans are the drug of choice. They are effective in relieving the pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound that are associated with migraines. Medications include sumatriptan (Imitrex), rizatriptan (Maxalt), almotriptan (Axert), naratriptan (Amerge), zolmitriptan (Zomig), frovatriptan (Frova) and eletriptan (Relpax). Side effects of triptans include nausea, dizziness and muscle weakness. They aren't recommended for people at risk for strokes and heart attacks. A single-tablet combination of sumatriptan and naproxen sodium (Treximet) has proved more effective in relieving migraine symptoms than either medication on its own.
  • Ergot. Ergotamine and caffeine combination drugs (Migergot, Cafergot) are much less expensive, but also less effective, than triptans. They seem most effective in those whose pain lasts for more than 48 hours. Dihydroergotamine (D.H.E. 45, Migranal) is an ergot derivative that is more effective and has fewer side effects than ergotamine. It's also available as a nasal spray and in injection form.
  • Anti-nausea medications. Because migraines are often accompanied by nausea, with or without vomiting, medication for nausea is appropriate and is usually combined with other medications. Frequently prescribed medications are metoclopramide (Reglan) or prochlorperazine (Compro).
  • Opiates. Medications containing narcotics, particularly codeine, are sometimes used to treat migraine headache pain when people can't take triptans or ergot. Narcotics are habit-forming and are usually used only as a last resort.
  • Dexamethasone. This corticosteroid may be used in conjunction with other medication to improve pain relief. Because of the risk of steroid toxicity, dexamethasone should not be used frequently.

Preventive medications
You may be a candidate for preventive therapy if you have two or more debilitating attacks a month, if pain-relieving medications aren't helping, or if your migraine signs and symptoms include a prolonged aura or numbness and weakness.

Preventive medications can reduce the frequency, severity and length of migraines and may increase the effectiveness of symptom-relieving medicines used during migraine attacks. Your doctor may recommend that you take preventive medications daily, or only when a predictable trigger, such as menstruation, is approaching.

In most cases, preventive medications don't eliminate headaches completely, and some cause serious side effects. If you have had good results from preventive medicine and have been migraine-free for six months to a year, your doctor may recommend tapering off the medication to see if your migraines return without it.

For best results, take these medications as your doctor recommends:

  • Cardiovascular drugs.Beta blockers — commonly used to treat high blood pressure and coronary artery disease — can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. The beta blocker propranolol (Inderal La, Innopran XL, others) has proved effective for preventing migraines. Calcium channel blockers, another class of cardiovascular drugs, especially verapamil (Calan, Verelan, others), also may be helpful in preventing migraines and relieving symptoms from aura. In addition, the antihypertensive medication lisinopril (Zestril) has been found useful in reducing the length and severity of migraines. Researchers don't understand exactly why these cardiovascular drugs prevent migraine attacks. Side effects can include dizziness, drowsiness or lightheadedness.
  • Antidepressants.Certain antidepressants are good at helping to prevent some types of headaches, including migraines. Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline (Pamelor) and protriptyline (Vivactil) are often prescribed for migraine prevention. Tricyclic antidepressants may reduce migraine headaches by affecting the level of serotonin and other brain chemicals, though amitriptyline is the only one proved to be effective for migraine headaches. You don't have to have depression to benefit from these drugs. Other classes of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) haven't been proved as effective for migraine headache prevention. However, preliminary research suggests that one SNRI, venlafaxine (Effexor, Venlafaxine HCL), may be helpful in preventing migraines.
  • Anti-seizure drugs.Some anti-seizure drugs, such as valproate (Depacon), topiramate (Topamax) and gabapentin (Neurontin), seem to reduce the frequency of migraines. Lamotrigine (Lamictal) may be helpful if you have migraines with aura. In high doses, however, these anti-seizure drugs may cause side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, hair loss, and dizziness.
  • Cyproheptadine.This antihistamine specifically affects serotonin activity. Doctors sometimes give it to children as a preventive measure.
  • Botulinum toxin type A (Botox).The FDA has approved botulinum toxin type A for treatment of chronic migraine headaches in adults. During this procedure, injections are made in muscles of the forehead and neck. When this is effective, the treatment typically needs to be repeated every 12 weeks.

I know this information is long, but it is from the Mayo Clinic and hopefully you will find some of it helpful.



March 3, 2013 - 3:04pm
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