Brain Foundation

Headache Management

Towards a Better Life

Headache is a very individual condition.  It is not life threatening but it can profoundly affect quality of life.  Headache sufferers are uniquely placed in that they can determine factors common to their own condition, learn more about their own condition and headache in general, and develop a plan to manage their headaches, to take charge of their headaches.

Headache research is seriously underfunded because it is mainly suffered in silence. Headache Australia is the voice and for it to be heard we need many many more members to start from a self-help basis to making the voice loud enough to gain the attention of corporations and governments.

To assist you to take charge of your headache, consider the following:

1. Take Responsibility for your Headache

Doctors, family, friends, colleagues and Headache Australia provide support but only you really know your headache and can take the action that leads to headache management.  Periods between headaches represent an opportunity to learn more and develop a headache plan that could prevent, curtail or lessen the next headache.

2. Keep a Headache Diary

Keeping a Headache Diary in which you record what you do/eat/drink, your hormonal cycle, medications you are taking, and any changes in your environment over a period of time, will help you identify any patterns that may lead to your headache and will help your doctor diagnose your headache.

3. Identify and Avoid Precipitating Factors

Precipitating factors (triggers) are anything that may precipitate or bring on a headache in a person prone to that factor.  Precipitating factors include hormonal changes in women, stress especially stress relief, dietary factors, alcohol, environmental factors, too much or too little sleep, physical exertion, bright lights and poor work conditions.  Precipitating factors you have identified can, where possible, be excluded from your life and hopefully this may lead to weaker, less frequent or even an absence of headaches.

4. Work with your Doctor

It is important that you visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis of your headache and to rule out any injury that may be the cause of your headache.  Make the appointment to specifically discuss your headache rather than adding it on to the end of another appointment.  Completing the Helping Your Doctor Treat Your Headache Questionnaire will assist the doctor to diagnose your headache and plan your treatment.  Your doctor may refer you to a specialist neurologist.   
Headache management is a great challenge.  A number of treatment options, preparations and methods of administration may have to be tried before you discover what works best for you.   Your doctor and your headache are a vital partnership.  This will include working with your doctor on your headache management plan.  This plan, your medication and symptoms, should be evaluated regularly and the plan updated.

5. Review your Lifestyle

It is quite possible that your life style, both at home and in the workplace, could provoke your headache.  Review your lifestyle determining your stress factors (work, family, financial, health, pace of life), diet, posture, environment, medical support and routines.

6. Learn More About Headache

Headache Australia is a division of the Brain Foundation that was established in 1971 by neurologists and neurosurgeons to reduce the incidence and impact of neurological disorders, the most prevalent being headache, through the provision of support, community education and research.  Through Headache Australia you can access information about many aspects of headache, about support services and research developments.

7. Regularly Update Your Headache Management Plan in Partnership With Your Doctor

This will involve
- Learning more about headache through Headache Australia 
- Identifying your precipitating factors
- Reviewing your lifestyle
- Keeping a Headache Diary
- Gaining an accurate diagnosis of your headache from your doctor
- Consider lifestyle changes that could reduce your headaches or help you through your headaches 
- Monitor your plan working with your doctor, learn more and continually update the plan.

8. Adopt Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes are difficult to make because they involve change, sometimes major, because they may involve other people, and because they take time and effort.  These changes predominantly involve adopting a healthy lifestyle and stress management.

- A Healthy Lifestyle may help reduce or eliminate headaches or will at least improve your overall health and involves eating healthily and regularly, drinking less caffeine and alcohol and plenty of water, exercising regularly, avoiding fatigue and having plenty of rest, having sufficient regular sleep, good posture and ensuring that work and living areas are well ventilated and well lit.

Stress management involves learning to be able to control stress and relax.  Everyone has periods of stress. Stress has benefits in that it can result in us pushing ourselves and getting things done.  This can precipitate a headache.  Simply taking some deep breaths and maybe tensing then relaxing your muscles can relieve occasional mild stress.  Regular stress may require learning to say “no”, not taking too much on.  Becoming fit, eating regularly, and proper sleep can help combat stress.  Learn better organizing skills, not setting standards that are too high and deal with problems as they arise, can all help.  As can, adopting stress management techniques such as meditation, biofeedback, relaxation therapy and yoga.

9. Plan Ahead

It is highly likely that any type of headache will impact on your life and lifestyle.  The impact could range from not being able to spend a weekend with your children, falling behind at work as you take time off, or perhaps even falling ill as a result of not wanting to eat or leave the house.  Friday night at the pub can take on a whole new meaning as you discover that it’s more than a hangover when it lasts till Monday.  Examining your lifestyle and planning ahead may reduce the impact of your headaches.  Be prepared by:

- Looking out for warning signs of a headache
- Keeping your medication on hand
- Having a back up plan.

Following are two examples of how a little planning can help minimise the effect headache has on your life.


Jan regularly suffers from migraine a few days before her period. This often requires a day off work, as the migraine is too severe to work through. The end result is that she often falls behind at this time.
Solution:  Using a calendar, Jan is able to keep track of exactly when her period is due and thus when a migraine is likely.  She works harder to achieve more beforehand and ensures no meetings scheduled at that time. She still needs time off work but is able to do so without causing any additional stress for herself and her work colleagues.


Peter, a single father of two, has nobody to step in and make dinner for the kids when a chronic headache hits.  All he wants to do is lie down but has to spend an hour standing over the stove preparing a nutritious meal. This ultimately makes the headache worse.
Solution:  Peter has suffered from chronic headache before and, in anticipation of this, pre-prepared some meals that he froze. All he has to do is put the meal in the microwave for a few minutes, dinner is ready and he can go back to lying down.

10. Help Yourself Through a Headache

If you recognize the signals of an impending headache don’t just ignore them. Stop what you are doing and relax your body, try to ease tension from your head and neck by stretching. Now may be the time to take your prescription medication or some over-the-counter medication.  All headache sufferers have different ways of dealing with an attack. There is no scientific data to support any of these methods but some we have heard of working include:
- Lying down in a dark and quiet room
- Sleeping
- Cold or warm cloth on the forehead of back of heck
- Ice treatment, heat such as a hot wet towel or warm bath or alternating hot and cold therapies
- Brisk walk in fresh air.
Most of all don’t be afraid to take time out from work and family to deal with headache. Remember, if you need help, just ask.

11. Join our Headache Register

Click here to find out more, or complete the form to the right to join our Australia wide Headache Register.

References

Migraine and Other Headaches 2000   Professor James Lance
Understanding Migraine and Other Headaches 2002 Dr Anne MacGregor
Headache in Children and Adolescents 2001 Paul Winner & A. David Rothner
Littlewood et al., 1998 from Mechanism and Management of Headache 6thed  James W. Lance and Peter J.Goadsby
Headaches Paul Spira 2000 Health Essentials
Migraine Association of Ireland 
The Migraine Trust, United Kingdom
Migraine Action Association, United Kingdom


Prepared by Louise Alexander, PhC, Grad Dip Comm Mngt, Former National Director of the Brain Foundation. Reviewed by Professor James Lance, AO, CBE, MD, Hon DSc, FRCP, FRACP, FAA, Consulting Neurologist, and author, “Migraine and Other Headaches”

Headache Register
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