They plague some 45 million Americans – along with their health care providers, who grapple with ways to offer relief. What works for one patient may be ineffective in another.
“One of the most important things to understand is, many times it is not just one thing that causes headache,” says Kaushal Nanavati MD, an assistant professor in family medicine who is new to the Upstate faculty. Nanavati practices “integrative medicine,” merging a traditional allopathic medical training with alternatives such as nutrition and herbal therapy, Chinese medicine, homeopathy and Ayuerveda, ancient Indian medicine.
Though Nanavati is open to the plethora of treatments, he cautions headache sufferers who try alternative remedies “to at least inform their health care providers. Some of these remedies may have a negative effect.”
On your own you could:
- Make sure you drink adequate amounts of water; up to 80 percent of headache sufferers are dehydrated
- Keep a food diary to help identify and eliminate trigger foods.
- Check your sleep hygiene. Some headaches are associated with muscle tightness, which may occur if you sleep in a room that’s chilly, or with your neck in an abnormal position.
- Maintain a schedule for eating and physical activity.
- Do something to reduce stress.
A doctor may prescribe:
- Blood work to check for a magnesium deficiency, which can trigger migraines.
- Medications to prevent or treat recurrent headaches.
- Imaging scans to rule out tumors and other abnormalities
- Physical therapy, if appropriate.
- Sleep study if sleep apnea is suspected.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, or counseling.
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, shown in a small study to have benefit
- Miniature nerve stimulator, implanted beneath the skin, to treat profoundly disabling headaches.
An herbalist may advise:
- Peppermint oil solution on the forehead as a topical pain reliever.
- Melatonin, especially if sleep disturbance is an issue.
- Butterbur to relieve spasms and decrease swelling.
- Feverfew to relieve smooth muscle spasms.
A nutritionist may recommend:
- Increased consumption of nuts, legumes, leafy greens, grains, red meat and seafood, foods that are rich in magnesium.
- Riboflavin, which in high doses can significantly reduce the number of migraine headaches.
- The amino acid, 5 hydroxytryptophan, which helps the body produce serotonin.
- Coenzyme Q10 or fish oil supplements to reduce inflammation.
- An elimination diet in which you remove all common trigger foods (caffeine, alcohol, nitrates, nuts, aged cheese, wheat) and methodically replace them one by one to determine your sensitivities.
A mind/body practitioner may suggest:
- Acupuncture, which has been shown to be more effective in relieving headaches than taking a prescription.
- “Touch therapy,” including massage or Reiki.
- Biofeedback, which has been shown to be as effective as prescriptions and even more effective when combined with relaxation therapy.
- Chiropractic adjustment, particularly for tension type headaches.
- Hypnotherapy, or self hypnosis.
Read about Dr. Nanavati and the integrative medicine he brings to Upstate.
Listen to his interview on Health Link on Air radio.
Watch his YouTube video.
Learn more about Nanavati.