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Women And Headache

Headache is one of the most common symptoms in adults- it ranks ninth among causes for physician visits.  Yet we usually dismiss headaches as simply results of "stress".  Often, we self-medicate with over-the-counter medications, which may be sufficient.  But when is a headache a more serious problem?  What are the differences between a simple headache and one that needs medical attention- or one that is an emergency?  How do you know what kind of medical attention to seek?  Dr. Donnica Moore discusses the different types of headaches, their associated symptoms, and when to seek medical attention sooner rather than later.  Dr. Moore also discusses how to diagnose, treat and even prevent several of the more common types of headache, including the infamous "Not-tonight-dear-I-have-a-headache" headache.

Most adults have experienced a headache at some point. They range from mild and fleeting, to severe and requiring hospital admission.  As ninth on the list among causes for physician visits, they command a great deal of medical attention, much of which is spent in making a diagnosis.  The causes of headache are numerous and varied.  Headaches can be disorders themselves (such as migraine, tension headache, cluster or vascular headache) or they can be a secondary symptom of another problem.  Secondary causes include problems within the brain itself (e.g. tumors, stoke, infection, injury); most headaches from secondary causes are from problems originating outside the brain but in the head (e.g. sinus infection; numerous problems in the eyes, ears or nose; etc.) or from systemic conditions.  These can include everything from high blood pressure to a low blood count, to the flu to not getting enough sleep or to drinking too much alcohol or not enough caffeine.  Side effects of medications also often cause headaches.  Sometimes, no specific cause can be identified.

Generally the cause of the headache must be identified through a complete history and physical exam.  While laboratory and radiologic tests help to eliminate some of the more serious possibilities, nearly 9 out of 10 patients with headaches have either migraines or tension headaches, for which there is no specific diagnostic test.

How many times have we said or heard others say, "Oh-it's nothing-just a headache"?   Yet, according to the National Headache Foundation, migraine itself alone is such a pervasive problem, that 157 million workdays are lost each year in the US, at a cost of $17.2 billion.  This does not factor in the social costs of migraine or the costs of other headache disorders.  Headache sufferers owe it to themselves, to their families, and to their jobs to see a physician for proper evaluation and treatment, even if it means taking a day off from work to do so.  And if it is "just a headache" the reassurance itself can be very comforting.

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 While the diagnosis may be a migraine, this diagnosis can only be made after other serious and even life-threatening problems are considered and ruled out. 

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