Heading Off a Headache

Health, Home & Family
on October 1, 2006

Judy Brown started having headaches as a teenager, and her throbbing migraines worsened under the pressures of college and, later, a demanding sales training job that required frequent travel.

“Whenever a headache hit—and they did frequently—I was wrecked,” says Brown, now 47, of Nashua, N.H. “I’d be popping pills and holding cold packs to my temples.” Often, the relentless pain forced her to bed.

Finally, in 1986, Brown found relief through a headache clinic, where her doctor weaned her from most medications and suggested she reduce her caffeine intake to one cup of coffee a day. Brown also began to identify her headache “triggers” and learned that the best way to live headache-free is to avoid what causes them in the first place.

All headaches are not alike, but many can be derailed by following simple steps such as:

  • Maintaining a regular sleep pattern by going to sleep and getting up at the same time each day.
  • Exercising, including aerobic exercise three times a week.
  • Not skipping meals, especially breakfast.
  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Taking short breaks during work.

It’s important for chronic headache sufferers to identify what causes their pain. Brown’s headache triggers include strong aromas such as perfumes and certain foods, including aged cheese, chocolate and processed meats that contain sodium nitrates, so she avoids them.

Other headache triggers can include stress, weather, hormonal changes, glaring light, eyestrain or motion. To help you identify what factors are contributing to your pain, the National Headache Foundation suggests keeping a headache diary or journal. This lets you document personal and family headache history and track patterns of eating, alcohol intake and activities that generally precede a headache. Such records can help you or your doctor isolate the problem.

For Brown, the self-examination and subsequent changes in her lifestyle have paid off. “Compared to when I had incapacitating headaches almost daily, now I’m pain free 95 percent of the time,” she says.

Visit www.headaches.org for more information.