No medicine sometimes best medicine
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Since age 16 (I am 32 now), I have had incredibly harsh headaches. I practically live on aspirin. These headaches are destroying my life. Please help. -- S.S.
ANSWER: The big three in the headache world -- even the daily headache world -- are migraine, tension and cluster headaches.
Migraines are one-sided affairs. When one of these headaches strikes, people often become sensitive to light and sound, are nauseated and seek a quiet, dark room to get some relief.
Tension headaches produce a dull pain often described as a band encircling the head and squeezing it like a vise. They last from 30 minutes to a week. Maybe you have this kind of headache.
Cluster headaches are located around one eye, come on suddenly and often while sleeping, and are of such intensity that the person jumps out of bed and paces through the house. You don't have cluster headaches.
There is a fourth kind of headache called rebound headache. It comes from overuse of headache medicines. People up the dose and frequency of medicine only to find it not working. They continue escalating medicine use. Overuse of medicine can deplete brain serotonin stores. Serotonin is an important brain chemical messenger. Its depletion can lead to a headache.
In honesty, I don't know the cause of your headaches. You need a hands-on examination by a doctor. In your case, it might be best to start with a neurologist, the headache specialist. If the headaches are rebound headaches, stopping the medicine can stop the headaches.
Information on the kinds of and treatments for headaches can be found in the headache pamphlet. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue -- No. 901, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient's printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband worries me. He wakes from a sound sleep, gets up holding his head and complains of a terrible headache. He's only 27, and he refuses to see a doctor. This has happened three times in the past week. -- J.I.
ANSWER: Your husband must see a doctor. New and repeated headaches of great intensity can be alarms sounding a warning that catastrophes are in the making unless prompt intervention takes place.
Or, your husband might be having cluster headaches. He's the right age, and what you say fits their description. They are one-sided headaches and are often centered behind the eye.
The next time it happens, get up and look at his eyes. If the eye on the side of the headache is bloodshot and watering, that is more evidence for cluster headaches. The nostril on the same side might drip.
Cluster headaches earned the name by coming in bunches (clusters) for weeks or months and then disappearing for months to years.
Breathing pure oxygen from an oxygen tank can often end these headaches. Sumatriptan, a medicine used for migraine headaches, also works for cluster headaches. So does ergotamine, another migraine remedy. It comes in a form that is placed under the tongue for quick action. (It comes in other forms, too.)
Medicines can also be used to prevent cluster headaches. Lithium, Calan and Inderal are examples.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Twice in the past year I have gotten out of bed to empty my bladder and have fainted. What's going on? -- R.M.
ANSWER: This might be micturition syncope. "Micturition" is a medical word for urination, and "syncope" is one for fainting. Sometimes emptying the bladder sets off a reflex slowing of the heart that, in turn, deprives the brain of its usual blood supply. A faint occurs. Tell your doctor about this. There are more ominous explanations for such a phenomenon, such as abnormal heartbeats.
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Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.
(c) 2004 North America Syndicate Inc.
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