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Oh my aching head: Advice for headache and migraine sufferers

Dr. Susan Mathison, Positively Beautiful columnist

Most of us suffer from an occasional headache. There's the sinus headache, the weather headache, the TMJ headache, the stress headache, the PMS headache, the over-tired headache, and of course the dreaded migraine headache.

Studies show that about 90 percent of people describe headaches, but only 5 percent feel that that they have migraines. A classic migraine is usually one-sided with significant pain, accompanied by nausea, light sensitivity and sound sensitivity. The truth is, many of the other headaches can be types of migraines. Other symptoms, like dizziness, distortion of vision, flashes of light in the eyes and fatigue can also be associated with migraine syndromes.

Some people manage headaches with over-the-counter medications like Tylenol or Aleve. Others require strong prescription medications. If you have recurring headaches, you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of migraines. If you have the worst headache of your life, seek immediate medical attention.

I see many patients in my medical practice for sinus trouble who actually have migraines. Our patients with allergies have a higher tendency for migraines. And many of my cosmetic patients have found that their migraines improve along with their wrinkles!

Frequent use of OTC medications can actually make things worse by causing rebound headaches. Prescriptions can cause side effects. So it's important to look at the many factors that influence migraines, like stress, food and sleep. I often give patients "homework" via handouts about trigger foods and suggest exercise and good sleep. Easier said than done! Patients get overwhelmed, and it's hard to make progress.

I serendipitously met author and wellness coach Stephanie Weaver a few years ago at a TEDMED conference. We reconnected recently when she told me about her health journey.

She struggled with severe dizziness and headaches for months before getting a diagnosis of vertiginous migraines.

Stephanie went back to basics. She drew on her academic background as a Masters in Public Health to research all treatment options. She experimented with meditation, exercise and food to coach herself back to health. She developed an eight-week plan that she shares through her best-selling book "The Migraine Relief Plan."

Over the course of eight weeks, the plan gradually transitions readers into a healthier lifestyle, including key behaviors such as regular sleep, trigger-free eating, gentle exercise and relaxation techniques. The book also collects resources — shopping lists with preferred brands, meal plans, symptom tracking charts, recommended supplements, and kitchen-tested recipes for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. Readers get the tools they need to be successful.

"The Migraine Relief Plan" encourages readers to eat within the guidelines while still helping them follow personal dietary choices, like vegan or Paleo, and navigate challenges, such as parties, work and travel. A must-have resource for anyone who lives with head pain, this book will inspire you to rethink your attitude toward health and wellness.

Join us from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 22 on the outdoor patio at Catalyst Medical Center. You'll hear from author Stephanie Weaver, Taylor Fontaine, PA-C, and Amy Ulbricht, NP, and me, Dr. Susan Mathison. Healthy treats and beverages will be served.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at info@catalystmedicalcenter.com.

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