Health Watch -- When Life's a Headache

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Do frequent headaches get in the way of your daily routine? You could have a common neurological disorder.

Just about everyone suffers from headaches from time to time. A long, tiring day may bring on a tension headache. Sinus congestion and pressure also may cause headaches. But if you frequently have headaches that keep you from functioning or enjoying life, doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say you could be suffering from migraine.

Migraine is the most common neurological disorder in the developed world. It affects more people than epilepsy, diabetes and asthma combined - about 28 million Americans. Most of these people haven't been diagnosed.

Dr. Dion Graybeal, a UT Southwestern neurologist, says if you have headaches more than three days a week, and if headaches cause you to be disabled so you can't function normally for more than three days a month, you have chronically recurring headaches. Most of these are caused by migraine, although some may have been diagnosed in the past as tension or sinus problems.

A migraine attack causes intense, throbbing pain on one side of the head. Movement makes it worse. The attack may also cause nausea and extreme sensitivity to light or sound. An attack can last from several hours to several days. Some patients experience symptoms before an attack, such as vision problems, ringing in the ears, disorientation or tingling.

There's no cure for migraine, but prescription medication may help reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms.


March 2004