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Headaches: A Common but Complex Health Problem

They happen so frequently to so many people it’s easy to overlook them. However, headaches can be a debilitating illness and signal of other health issues.

During National Headache Awareness Week, which runs from June 7 to June 13, it’s important to learn more about this common but painful condition. According to the American College of Physicians, seven in 10 people have at least one headache a year, and more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches.

Norman physician Dr. Paul Gill is a board-certified neurologist who specializes in the treatment of headaches. He’s seen some of the worst cases including complex migraines, and urges patients to educate themselves on when to seek medical help for a headache.

Types of Headaches

Dr. Gill said the most common headaches are migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches.

Migraines: Symptoms of a migraine headache include sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting. This type of headache also most commonly appears on one-side of the head. Dr. Gill said there is a family predisposition for migraine headaches and they can be an inherited problem.

Cluster: A cluster headache is an intense but brief pain behind the eyes. A person can experience a cluster headache, but then be headache free for months.

Tension: That painful feeling of a band or vice gripping your head is a tension headache. These headaches can be brought on by stress.

Red Flags

Headaches can often signal an underlying disease or condition such as meningitis or tumors. They can also be debilitating and painful on their own. If you experience any of the following red flags it’s important to see a doctor, Gill said.

  • If you have a headache along with a fever and chills. This could be a sign of meningitis.
  • If you feel weak on one-side or have a change in the feeling or sensations in your limbs.
  • If you experience a decreased level of consciousness or a change in your character.
  • If you have been treated for headaches, but continue to have headaches.
  • If you experience the “worst headache of your life.”

Treatment Options

Headaches can be treated two ways. Doctors can use preventative measures to stop headaches from happening or headaches can be stopped once they occur.

“Preventative treatments are the best approach,” Dr. Gill said. “If you are having more than six to eight headaches a month it’s much safer to take preventative medication.”

A variety of medications such anti-depressants, anti-seizure or blood pressure medications can be given at a different dosage to prevent headaches. Medications can also be taken to stop a headache once it’s started. The most frequently used drugs belong to a group called triptans, which narrow blood vessels in the brain and relieve swelling. A popular brand name drug used to treat migraines from this group is Imitrex.

If you are suffering from chronic, painful headaches consider consulting a physician. Dr. Gill’s practice is located at 724 24th Ave. NW in Norman, Okla. To schedule an appointment call (405) 307-5700.

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Contact Kelly Wells
Norman Regional Health System

Office (405) 307.2143
Fax (405) 307.2144