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How To Treat Headaches: New Headaches, Chronic Headaches and Severe Headaches

If you suffer with frequent or severe headaches here are some top tips to treat them.

By Dr Marie Vossen (DC) and Katie North, osteopath.

1. Headaches have started or worsened recently:

Headaches are very common and usually not something to worry about too much. They are usually self-limiting (which means they will usually get better on their own in a few hours). Taking it easy, drinking plenty of fluids to keep hydrated and taking an over the counter painkiller are usually the best treatments for an isolated headache.

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2. Headaches that have been present for a month or more/ are there 1+ times per week

If your headaches have been present a few times over the course of a month it may be a lifestyle factor that is influencing your headaches. Stress, sleep, posture, diet, alcohol intake and neck pain are just a few of the more common triggers of an escalation in headaches. It’s worth keeping a diary of these or using a headaches app to record your headaches and any potential triggers. If one or more of these common causes seems likely to be affecting you, you can make strategies to improve things.

At this point, seeking the advice of someone who specialises in headaches is likely to be beneficial, as you’re likely to see more rapid improvement when well guided.

If you are getting the headaches frequently and the pain is quite severe you should consider discussing medications with your doctor. It is important to realise that the medication you take can also play a role in causing headaches, so it is important to discuss this with someone who understands it.

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3. Headaches that have been present for more than 3 months.

At this point you should definitely have sought professional advice and if not, you should seek it now.

If you find medications don’t manage your symptoms as you would like you may benefit from trying alternative modes of treatment such as manual therapy (e.g. osteopathy, chiropractic) to see if it suits you better. This treatment option will also benefit you if you don’t like taking medication regularly.

There is often a musculoskeletal element to chronic headaches (i.e. problems with the spine, neck and muscles) that respond well to manual therapy.

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4. Urgent symptoms to seek immediate medical attention:

If headaches are new to you or you’ve noticed a recent increase in the frequency and severity of your headaches, and you present any of the urgent symptoms listed below you should seek medical advice. These symptoms can sometimes mean that your headache could be caused by a more serious underlying problem (although less than 4% of people who present to a doctor with headaches have a serious underlying cause it’s better to be safe than sorry).

  • A headache that is different to what is typical for you.
  • First and/or worst ever headache you have experienced.
  • Abrupt onset of severe headache that feels like having been hit by a baseball bat (thunderclap headache /comes on in under a minute)
  • Neurological symptoms (numbness and/or tingling in the face or arms, loss of control of facial muscles and dizziness)
  • Changes in vision
  • A new onset of headaches if you are over the age of 50.
  • A new onset of headaches if you are pregnant, immunocompromised, or have cancer
  • A headache associated with loss or change in consciousness
  • A headache triggered by physical exertion, coughing, sneezing, straining
  • A headache associated with a fever, rash and severe neck stiffness (unable to look at your toes)
  • Headache with a previous history of (Neoplasm) Cancer

Contact your GP, NHS 111 or go to A&E as a matter of urgency. Again, remember, there’s every likelihood that your headache will not have any serious underlying cause but just knowing that is likely to help you feel better.

If you’d like us to answer any of your headache-related questions please email us at patientcare@coreclinics.co.uk and we’ll be happy to help.

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