Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How to Tell If a Headache Is a Migraine; Identifying the Cause of Recurring Head Pain Will Bring More Effective Relief Than Relying on pillsMEDICAL NOTES

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How to Tell If a Headache Is a Migraine; Identifying the Cause of Recurring Head Pain Will Bring More Effective Relief Than Relying on pillsMEDICAL NOTES

Article excerpt

RECURRENT headache is one of the most common reasons for consulting a GP, but while there are hundreds of possible causes, just two conditions migraine and tension headache

account for the lion's share of cases. And it's not easy to tell them apart.

Tension headache is the most common form of persistent headache in the UK, affecting around a third of the population at some time and, paradoxically, widely used painkillers often make the problem worse.

People with tension headaches often describe feeling as if their heads are in a vice. The pain can be felt anywhere over the head and tends to come on during the day and worsen towards evening.

They are more common in people with sedentary lifestyles, particularly those in their late teens, who are under some form of stress, and the first step in dealing with tension headaches should always be to encourage more physical activity and, wherepossible, identify and deal with any underlying stress.

Occasional tension headaches can be eased with ibuprofen or paracetamol, but recurrent attacks require a more subtle approach. Painkillers relieve symptoms initially, but with time they can accentuate them, particularly in chronic sufferers.

This is a difficult concept for most patients to grasp, but there is now good evidence that withdrawing painkillers, rather than taking stronger ones, is the way forward.

Daily preventative medication, such as low-dose amitriptyline, is useful for chronic sufferers who find it difficult to wean themselves off painkillers. And relaxation therapy

teaching people how to relax the muscles of the scalp and neck is another effective approach that can provide effective relief in as many as six out of 10 cases. Differentiating tension headaches from migraine can be difficult, but if you have two or more of these symptoms then it's likely that your problems are due to migraine: Intense throbbing headache, often but not always one-sided

Visual disturbances

these sometimes precede the headache Sickness and/or vomiting Sensitivity to light (photophobia) Sensitivity to sound (phonophobia) Sensitivity to smells (osmophobia) We still don't fully understand why some people are so prone to migraine, but susceptible individuals appear particularly sensitive to alterations in routine. …

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