Long Live You: Get ahead of life-changing headaches


A century ago, women had to take to the bed with headaches. The incapacitating pain of a migraine would leave them unable to do much more than rest. That’s no longer necessary, thanks to complementary approaches to treat and prevent headaches even migraines. 

There are several ways to address headaches with traditional medicine and complementary therapies. First, though, start with a visit to your doctor to rule out any serious conditions, such as tumors or aneurysms.

A primary way to prevent or treat headaches is with prescription medications. The a family of serotonin-receptor agonists called triptans is helpful to stave off migraine headaches. Other commonly prescribed medications include ergotamine, which narrows enlarged blood vessels, and anti-inflammatory medications. Doctors sometimes also prescribe blood-pressure medications, tricyclic antidepressants or anticonvulsant medications to be taken daily to prevent migraines. 

However, these therapies come with risks. Triptans, for example, can interact with antidepressants to cause a life-threatening side effect called serotonin syndrome. Long-term use of many headache medications can cause a rebound effect, in which the medication causes headaches.

But such drugs may well be unnecessary for many chronic headache sufferers. Complementary therapies for headache start with lifestyle. How are you dealing with stress? Are you getting enough good sleep?

We find many patients’ headaches respond to diet. Artificial sweeteners are a major cause of headaches, and many patients who stop using them find their headaches vanish almost immediately. Patients also can try various elimination diets, in which they cutout the common foods found to be triggers. Their headaches usually will occur less frequently or be eliminated. 

A doctor can test you for food sensitivities to identify the ones you should try to eliminate. Be aware that the conventional food sensitivity test, called IGE it stands for immunoglobulin E is not helpful for this. But since our immune system works in four ways, the IGE part only being one of them, you can look at the other three ways. 

Reactions to food take anywhere from 12 to 36 hours to manifest, and the mainstream medical community is only starting to understand the connection of the delayed immune response to many chronic diseases. In our practice, however, we find this testing is helpful for many patients.

If your diet is not to blame, it may be a misalignment of the spine or bones of the skull. Many patients will find that manipulation is helpful and in many cases curative. This also can be combined with acupuncture to speed the process. 

There are also supplements that can help. Butterbur, commercial preparations only, and Coenzyme Q 10 have shown effectiveness in studies. Riboflavin also may help but takes about three months to be effective. Several other supplements also may do some good but have been less well studied. 

So if you suffer frequent headaches, you have many options available to you that are safe and effective. The days of taking to the bed or suffering in silence without relief are over. 

Dr. Steinmetz is a board certified family medical doctor based in Alexandria who uses conventional and integrative practices. She welcomes reader questions at info@caringdoc.com.