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Practical advice for headache relief

With over 45 million Americans suffering from various types of headaches, it’s one of the most common painful ailments in our society.  There are many conventional medical interventions, and a quick Google search will yield many of these options.


Last I checked there are over 200 different types of headache.   Immediately life-threatening emergencies must be ruled out first, and these include:

tumors,  bleeds, infections, eye problems such as glaucoma, vascular problems such as temporal arteritis, and blood pressure issues.

Once it’s been determined that the headache does not represent an emergency medical condition, you have the luxury of sampling various treatment options over time in a quest to discover relief. 

Standard conventional therapy includes abortive measures (medications that puts a stop to a headache already present); and preventative measures (medications that prevent the onset or severity of a headache in advance). Typical over the counter abortive measures include Tylenol, Advil, Excedrin, and aspirin.  In the ER we typically use additional drugs, such as anti-emetics (used for nausea/vomiting) which include Phenergan, Reglan, and Compazine.  Sometimes we’ll combine this with an anti-inflammatory agent such as Toradol.  We typically provide intravenous hydration – because sometimes HAs are caused by dehydration.  Some docs will use caffeine IV as well.  

Oxygen has been shown to help some types of HAs, so throwing on an oxygen mask is not unusual.  And finally, if all else fails, we’ll give a benzodiazepine or narcotic analgesic (like Valium and/or Vicodin).  The latter two are quite addictive if used long term, so we really try not to “resort” to these classes of drugs in dealing with chronic pain since studies have shown that long term use of these drugs may be more detrimental than helpful in the overall health and functioning of the patient.

Besides, who wants to be drugged up all the time, unable to think straight, drive a car, or do their jobs?

So let’s explore some other alternatives.

The most effective way to “cure” any ailment is to maintain balance in your life.  Stress, fear, worry, anxiety, and excessive ‘busy-ness’ contribute to ill-health.  If you ever want to be truly healthy, you must find a way to balance your life.  Discover your triggers.  Some say its red wine.  Others report cheeses and bright lights.  Potential causes are numerous, but I would argue that ultimately the “cure” is a healthy lifestyle and stress management.

What does this mean, exactly?

  • Drinking plenty of pure water each day.  Dehydration is a known cause of headaches and fatigue.  If you are fatigued, you do not function as efficiently.  Low efficiency leads to increased stress, and the cycle repeats.
  • Eat organic foods.  Food laced with growth hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, and artificial coloring or flavoring is NOT good for your body!  Hormones cause reactions in your body.  Pesticides are hormone disruptors (and that just sounds bad, doesn’t it?)  Antibiotics affect your intestinal flora, therefore affecting your digestion and ability to extract essential nutrients from your gut lumen as your food passes through.  And artificial coloring/flavoring are chemicals masquerading as food.  The thing is, your body knows the difference…and doesn’t like “fake food.”
  • Take multivitamins, including vitamins B complex and D, calcium and (especially) magnesium.  Low bodily stores of essential minerals contribute to fatigue, chronic pain syndromes, decreases your ability to deal with stress, and affects the function of your endocrine and immune systems.
  • Get outside.  There is just no substitute for sunlight!  SPF sunscreen of over 6 essentially blocks the UV rays that your body needs for make active vitamin D.  So, go without every now and then!  Breathe the fresh air…and enjoy the Earth.
  • Walk barefoot!  The Earth can sustain us, and is amazing in the many ways that it does.  One way is by “grounding” us.  See, in our (“technologically advanced”) lives, as we sit in front of our TVs, our computers, use hair-driers, cell phones, play video games, use iPads, and the like, we accumulate (negatively charged) electrons in our body.  Walking barefoot on the Earth is a great way to *ground* ourselves, much like electrical wires are ‘grounded’ to the earth.  As we discharge these electrons, our balance is restored, and we feel better.
  • Meditate.  Our lives are so *full* and our brains are often engaged in multiple tasks simultaneously.  Meditating allows us to *quiet our minds* so we can focus internally.  This reconnection to our Source is essential to maintaining health.  Without it, we feel frazzled, and being frazzled is definitely a trigger for headaches.
  • Try to do one thing at a time.  Studies have shown that we are more efficient when we focus on one task at a time.  Of course, as an ER doc, I understand that this is not always possible.  But…sometimes, it is.  Sometimes we can close all the windows on our computer as we work, except the window we’re working on.  We can eat dinner without answering email.  We can talk on the phone without watching TV.  When our brains are overloaded, we feel stressed (even if not immediately obvious to us in our frazzled state), and stress is arguably the main contributor to headaches.
  • Avoid  “overdosing” on chemicals and synthetic fragrances and additives in your toiletries and hygiene products.  The average woman uses about 15 different products each day (some of these multiple times a day) exposing herself to over 100 chemicals (sometimes up to 500+).  Most of these chemicals have not been proven safe to humans, and some have actually *been shown* to be very damaging and disruptive to our system.  They are not regulated by the FDA, so the only way to keep yourself safe is to avoid them.  It seems obvious to me that constant exposure to these various toxins quickly overwhelms your body’s detoxification processes, and their accumulation contributes to atypical and esoteric “mystery” illness.  It’s not a stretch to deduce that headaches are a possible consequence.
  • Take abortive medications early.  When you feel a headache coming on, go ahead and take your Excedrin.  If you wait until the headache is “full-blown” it will take much longer (and higher doses of medication) to alleviate the pain.
  • As additional preventative measures, consider progesterone cream if you suspect estrogen dominance.   And with the help of your physician, naturopathic physician, or after educating yourself about the pros, cons, potential benefits, drawbacks, dangers, and limitations of various alternative treatments – consider herbal therapy (feverfew is commonly used for this purpose), acupressure, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, etc.
  • Aromatherapy is known to help ameliorate headaches.  Lavender and rosemary essential oil (diluted in carrier oil) rubbed on the temples  does wonders.

Above all, consider that your headache is a “sign” that something is “not right” in your life, and *be still* to discover those elements that are not consistent with your higher purpose.  I believe that our bodies “tell us” when something is not right in our lives.  Maybe it’s back pain, tight shoulders, twitching eyes, bloating and gas, or…headaches.  Once you get “back on track” the ailments improve.  Soon, you’ll be able to “feel” when something is right…or when an element needs to be purged from your life.  Once you master this, your headaches will very likely disappear!