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Why has my head hurt for 4 months??

By July 25, 2009 - 11:16pm
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I have had the most excruciating headache for 4 months, since April, and I've gotten to the point where I just can't take the pain anymore. Like four months is my absolute limit. I've just started sharing the story of my pain with friends and family and they're shocked that I've waited this long. I know, I know, I tell them, but I'm just too busy and don't have time to deal with this much less a cold virus. I've been in denial and keep hoping it will go away. I've tried massage, relaxation techniques, massive quantities of ibuprofen and acetaminophen. I've held together this facade that nothing's wrong for so long but can't do it anymore....I'd rather throw myself under a bus than go on for even another month of this pain.

My pain feels like a vise has got an iron grip on my skull and it never lets up -- doesn't matter if I'm resting or active. And the pain is in a very specific area. It's only on one side of my head (the left), and it starts in my neck at the base of my skull, just behind my ear, and it radiates up and back, spreading out in a circle and stopping at the top of my head. In the early days, it would pulsate, but now the pain is ever constant.

I finally went to my primary care physician about it this past Wednesday and his first inclination was that it is Occipital Neuralgia, where the Occipital nerves around the back of the head are inflamed and basically very irritated, causing intense pain. The area of the pain fits that diagnosis to a "t." But the problem is that typically O.N. is triggered by something, like an injury or whiplash, which I haven't experienced. My doctor sent me the very next day, Thursday, to see a headache/pain specialist and he gave me two steroid injections at the base of my skull to calm down those nerves. Unfortunately it takes a good three days for the steroids to take effect. Today's Saturday and it still hasn't kicked in.

In the meantime, my doctor had me do a spinal tap on Thursday night at the hospital (let me tell you, a spinal tap is NOT a joy), just to rule out really bad stuff like meningitis. The results have already come back -- and all was negative, which is a relief. He also had me do an MRI to look for a tumor, bleed, etc., but those results won't be back for a another three days or so.

So as I wait for the steroid injections to kick in, I'm on a pain killer which I'm totally loving, but it makes me drowsy and I can't drive while taking it. So Monday will be back to work and (painful) reality, ... unless by chance the steroid is helping by that point.

The pain specialist is a little skeptical that I have Occipital Neuralgia since we don't know of an "event" that caused it. He's leaning more towards migraine, except that doesn't really fit either because he says I'm not in the right age category (I'm 43) and have never had a migraine before, and plus hardly ever get headaches anyway. And I don't have the classic symptoms of a migraine.

So it's still a mystery. But all I know is I want my pain-free life back.

Although I haven't had an injury, I did have an "event" right before this head pain started. I had the Swine Flu (along with my three kids), and I'm wondering if a virus like that can attack or impair nerves like the Occipital nerves. I've been so exhausted by this pain that I haven't taken the time to research that.

In any case, if anyone has any ideas at all to throw my way, I'll be eternally grateful for any and all input!

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EmpowHER Guest

Please keep me updated on what you find out. My daughter has had very similar symptoms..she's had a headache for 7 months now.

June 15, 2014 - 4:08pm

Well, I think the steroid is starting to kick in. I've not taken any pain medication for two days now and I'm relatively pain-free for the most part. However, my head started to really hurt about 3-4 hours after I started my work day today. It was so painful by noon that I wanted to cry. At that point, it was time to attend a company-wide meeting in another room and, miraculously, the pain stopped while I was in the meeting. I couldn't figure it out. Then I realized that I'd been sitting completely upright and still for the duration of that meeting. Now, I'm back at my desk and have been here working on my computer for about an hour and the pain is coming back. I'm wondering if my chair and/or sitting position has something to do with this.... I remember reading on the National Headache Foundation web site that prolonged, consistent "crunching" of your Occipital Nerves caused by the way you're holding your body and/or contracting your neck/shoulder muscles can trigger inflammation and damage to the nerves.

I think I may need to look for a new chair.....

July 28, 2009 - 1:48pm
(reply to Kristin Davis)

...or, could it be from looking at the computer monitor? I assume you are back at your desk with a computer in front of you, whereas in the meeting, you did not?

Does your company have an Ergonomics Coordinator or a consultant that could come in and assess your workspace?

July 28, 2009 - 2:24pm
(reply to Alison Beaver)

That's a great idea about the computer. I work on a laptop and wonder if I should try raising it to be eye level like with a stand or something.....

I think we really could use an Ergonomics Coordinator here at EmpowHer!! I didn't even know there was such a thing!

July 28, 2009 - 2:49pm
(reply to Kristin Davis)

We had an ergonomics coordinator at one office where I worked. The funny thing was that nothing ever came of it for too many of us with far from ergonomically designed desks and workspaces. Even now, working in an agency that is all about healthcare, I don't have a secretarial desk for a computer desk; hard on the arms and wrists. Go figure! One would think that a company would be conscious of lower healthcare costs for people who had proper working conditions, and probably fewer sick days for doctor's appointments and physical therapy.

July 28, 2009 - 7:59pm
Expert HERWriter

Hey Kristin,

I am so so sorry to read about your constant headache pain these past four months. I've had headaches that last four days; I can't imagine four months of pain. I am so glad that you are getting in and getting help and I'm also glad that your doctors are taking this seriously and looking at all the reasons that could be behind it.

I think your Swine Flu observation is very interesting. I agree with Alison B that calling the CDC is a good idea, just to see if they've heard this before. The computer idea also makes sense. I know the ibuprofen probably helps bring at least a little relief--at least I hope it does--but I've also known people where that actually ends up causing "rebounding" effects, and actually makes it all worse. So that might be a factor too at this point.

I was wondering if maybe the "event" that would trigger this four months ago could be something that you might not even have realized? Like rather than an obvious accident like being rear-ended or something were you by chance at an amusement park in April? I was just thinking that being on some of those big roller coasters might cause a whiplash type injury that you might not even notice at the time.

When you had the Swine Flu, did you take any medications for it that were unusual for you? I'm wondering if that might have something to do with it too.

Please keep us posted on what you find out. Big hugs to you, Michelle

July 26, 2009 - 11:13pm

I am so sorry---I can not imagine living with the pain of a headache for so long. I am interested to hear the results of your MRI.

I could not find any information linking the swine flu to persistent headaches. As you probably experienced, the swine flu symptoms in humans are similar to a "regular" seasonal flu, and can be along the spectrum of mild to severe. However, the symptoms last for about a week. Long-term conditions from swine flu have occurred related to respiratory conditions or ear infections (for individuals with no pre-existing health conditions).

The only thought I have is to call CDC hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO (available 24/7), to see if any individuals have reported persistent or re-occurring headaches with swine flu as the "event".

I hope you find some relief, soon!

July 26, 2009 - 7:44pm
(reply to Alison Beaver)

I read on a govt. medical site that neuralgias, like Occipital Neuralgia, can be caused by an infection. (Maybe I developed an infection caused by the Swine Flu virus?) Another way it can be caused is from irritation caused by repeated contraction of the neck muscles (which can pinch the nerves), like keeping your head in a downward and forward position for long periods of time. Which is basically what I do all day long in front of the computer. That latter scenario may make more sense....

In any case, it's still a mystery, and in the meantime I can't wait for the steroid injections I had on Thursday to start kicking in.

July 26, 2009 - 8:46pm
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