Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 2, 2012
“Headache is one of the most common afflictions of human beings. Nearly everyone has experienced headache and many people have recurrent headaches,” explains Dr. Martin Samuels, Chairman of the Department of Neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Migraine is, in fact, the most common type of recurrent headache, but other causes of headaches exist as well, says Dr. Samuels, “It is important to see a doctor about headaches so the doctor can hear about the nature of the problem and carry out a neurological examination.”
Based on an examination with your doctor, other causes of headache can be excluded – sometime with some tests, including brain images. In the end, though, most recurrent headaches will be determined to be migraine.
Dr. Samuels says, “Primary care doctors are skilled in determining whether a headache is serious or not and in initiating appropriate treatment. Neurologists are specialists in diseases of the brain and the rest of the nervous system and may be consulted by the primary care doctor if a particular patient’s headache problem is unusually severe, unusual or resistant to treatment.”
Within the specialty of neurology, there are some physicians who specialize only in headache and they are consulted for difficult or unusual headache problems. One such place is the John R. Graham Headache Center, a division of the Department of Neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where consultation services are provided for patients with chronic, disabling headache conditions.
“Migraines run in families and show a huge spectrum of manifestations across the entire life span,” Dr. Samuels explains. “Contrary to common belief, all migraines are not necessarily severe. They may be preceded by a period of neurological impairment, call the aura, which is usually a visual experience, such as flashing lights or holes in the visual experience and the headache itself may be mild or severe.”
Also, if the migraine is severe it can be associated with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to loud sounds and bright lights. A severe migraine headache can last several days, but most are relieved by sleep and therefore disappear after a few hours.
The good news is that there are many relatively new treatments available to abort a migraine headache and other treatments are available to prevent the migraines if they are occurring frequently enough to interfere with a person’s lifestyle.