Many of us struggle with headaches. More than 40 million Americans have headaches that are chronic and recurring, according to the National Headache Foundation.
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Some key contributors to head pain include stress, alcohol, skipping meals, nitrates, menstruation, weather changes, bright lights, exertion, exposure to smoke, high altitude, strong odors and alteration of sleep.
Today, there are more remedies than ever for headaches. A variety of FDA-approved medications and many over-the-counter medications are available for both migraine and tension-type headaches. If medication is not working for you, or you have chronic headache pain, a discussion with your doctor is in order.
For many patients, these five highly sensitive procedures can alleviate headaches for six months or more:
- Botulinum Toxin. Most people are familiar with the cosmetic uses of Botox® and Dysport® and other forms of injectable botulinum toxin. Now Botox, this popular anti-wrinkle agent, is being used to treat migraine, tension or chronic headaches. Multiple injections are made around the head and neck with goal of dulling future headache symptoms. Pain relief typically will last three to four months after a treatment, and the procedure can be done three to four times a year.
- Nerve Blocks. A nerve block is the injection of medication in or near a nerve to stop the pain to the central nervous system. The duration of the effect varies by patient, but they are often repeated every month to six weeks. The most common nerve block for headache is the regional occipital nerve block (ONB) in the back of the head where the head meets the back of the neck.
- Occipital Nerve Stimulator. This implantable electronic device, about the size of a credit card, allows patients to activate it at the first sign of a headache. The device stimulates the area over the occipital nerve, which is frequently involved in common headache pain and syndromes.
- Epidural Blood Patch. An epidural blood patch is a procedure in which a small amount of the patient’s blood is injected into the epidural space to stop certain types of spinal headaches. This resulting blood clot patches the hole in the lumbar spine and treats the patient’s headache symptoms. It is also believed to cause compression and relieve the pressure state in the head, which causes the headache.
- Outpatient Therapy. Patients who experience severe headaches several days per week may need to take part in intensive therapy, which focuses on improving a patient’s ability to function, rather than on completely eliminating pain. This involves attending in-person meetings with the physician and/or other headache sufferers.
“We now have a number of procedures we can perform to give patients long-term relief from headache pain that they may have been suffering with for years,” says pain management specialist Sumit Katyal, MD.
“Treatment often includes both interventional procedures and medication management depending on the location and frequency of the headache pain,” he says.
Headache Q&A: Test Yourself
To determine the best headache treatment, talk with your primary care provider. He or she may prescribe medication and/or refer you to a headache specialist who can work with you to determine the best course of action for you.