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Johns Hopkins Health - Crushing Headaches

Summer 2008
Issue No. 1

Crushing Headaches

Date: July 24, 2008

Man holding head

Headaches have more causes than there are pain remedies on the druggist’s shelf, but getting the right diagnosis means getting the right treatment

Millions of people in the United States get crippling headaches that undermine their ability to work, socialize and enjoy life. And there are dozens of headache types. Tension, migraine, cluster and trigeminal neuralgia are among the most common, while exertion-related headaches, spinal fluid disorders, chronic daily headaches and other rare forms of headaches and nerve pain can result in unusual symptoms.

However, they’re frequently misdiagnosed, says Johns Hopkins Headache Center neurologist Jason Rosenberg, M.D. “In fact, the overwhelming majority of patients actually have migraines or variations of migraines,” he says.

Less frequently, headaches indicate serious underlying medical conditions that could be harmful if misdiagnosed, such as aneurysms or brain tumors.

“The key,” Rosenberg says, “is in the evaluation and management of head pain, whether your headache happens a few times a year or is utterly relentless on a daily basis.” Over-the-counter medications and lifestyle changes—avoiding trigger foods and beverages, for example—often are effective. Other times, prescription management may be necessary. Either way, once an accurate diagnosis is made, most headache patients are going to get relief.

The Johns Hopkins Headache Center is one of the few academic-based headache centers in the world, drawing on specialties such as vascular medicine, neurology, pain management, neurosurgery, pediatrics, otolaryngology and psychiatry.

Stats and Facts

  • Taking too many headache meds too often results in a “rebound” effect—more headaches!
  • More men than women have cluster headaches, intense headaches that usually occur at about the same time daily or every few days.
  • 28 million Americans—mostly women—suffer from migraines.
  • Every 10 seconds, someone enters an ER with a severe headache.

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