Seeing a doctor about this headache might be a bigger headache than this headache
May 9, 2011 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Chronic tension headache showed up two weeks ago and hasn't left; is it doctor time when seeing a doctor is a pain in the ass?

I've been struggling with a tension headache for two weeks now, and I'm getting fed up with it and my partner has expressed concern. If I was back in Australia I'd pop down to see a GP without hesitation, but I live in the Netherlands now and I'm unfamiliar with my health insurance. Further, it's my understanding that Dutch doctors have an HTFU attitude, so I don't want to go through the hassle of an unnecessary appointment only to be told there's nothing to be done.

It's definitely a tension headache, radiating from the back of my neck through my jaw and up to my temples. I have no nausea and no changes in vision. The muscles under my jaw and in the front of my neck are also aching, and I have a bunch of painfully raised lymph nodes in my neck. The pain is worst later in the day and at night. Earlier in the day I'm fine, but later in the afternoon I have a hard time working and I've really been having a hard time sleeping. I've been chowing down ibuprofen and paracetemol like they were candy, but they don't seem to touch the sides. I suck at drinking water, so I've been trying really hard to drink more.

So my question is: tough it out, or try to find a GP in an unfamiliar medical system? What are my pain management options other than consuming liver-destroying quantities of painkillers?
posted by nerdfish to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Given the raised lymph nodes, I'd say it's time to visit the doctor.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:21 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here are my tension headache hacks: I've had good luck with sinus cold medicine, instead of ibuprofen. Also, alternating hot and cold (heating pad, cold can of soda at the back of the neck). Valerian is a muscle relaxant and that can help. Sometimes Valerian + rainstorm MP3 will relax me enough to get some sleep, and that can help break the headache.

Good luck - tension headaches are really not fun.
posted by griselda at 2:36 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could try getting your eyes checked. I was getting "tension headaches" a few days a week. They were worst at the end of the day. The doctor told me to get my eyes checked. Turns out I am farsighted. I never had a problem seeing things up close, but apparently that was because my eyes were straining to focus. As soon as I started wearing glasses the problem went away.
posted by jm4 at 2:49 PM on May 9, 2011

I used to get eye strain headaches like jm4. Nearsighted, not farsighted, but same basic symptoms - got a headache that wouldn't go away. It got a lot better if I closed my eyes, but not specifically light sensitivity like a migraine...

However, raised lymph nodes are a different matter, and I'd be looking in to visiting a doctor for that. And for glasses you'd have to visit a doctor anyway, really, even if a different kind.
posted by Lady Li at 3:22 PM on May 9, 2011

The lymph node thing seems to be putting you into doctor territory, but while you're navigating your health insurance and waiting for your appointment, I'd recommend taking hot baths (with epsom salts if you can) and scheduling a massage or two. I've found that once a tension headache has been entrenched for that long, the only thing that breaks it up is a deep massage. Find someone who specializes in deep tissue and/or sports massage; a regular day spa massage isn't sufficient for weeks-old tension headaches.
posted by stefanie at 3:58 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: Hi, this is my life.

The first thing I'd recommend is to cut back on the acetominophen. For one thing, too much can damage your liver (really!) and secondly, it can cause rebound headaches--you take a lot, and it wears off, and then your headache is worse than before. Try switching to aspirin or ibuprofen. Take the recommended dosage (don't take more because you hurt more--it doesn't quite work like that) every 6-8 hours, whether you think you need it or not, for a couple of days. Take it with food or an antacid if it bothers your stomach. Then taper down and see if you feel better.

Some other things to try:

-Drink more water. Lots, till you pee clear. Sometimes we just get dehydrated as the day wears on and don't realize we're thirsty. (Thirst is weirdly insidious like that.)
-Make sure you're eating lunch. Be sure to get some protein.
-Get your eyes checked.
-Check your ergonomics at work, be sure to take "blink breaks" and try to stretch and move around every hour or so if you can.
-Periodically check in on your posture and see if you're holding tension somewhere unconsciously.
-Try not to cross your legs when you sit.
-Don't sit on your wallet.
-Do you chew gum? Stop, or chew smaller pieces.
-If you can get a night guard from the drugstore, try one. You could be grinding your teeth at night, and that jaw tension can totally radiate back to your neck and head.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:26 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, hive mind, this is really helpful! I'm short sighted and I wear glasses, but it's been at least two years since I've had my prescription updated, so I'll put seeing an optometrist on my list of things to do.

I'll keep an eye on the lymph node situation, and if it doesn't go away within a week I'll man up and see a Dutch GP. My intuition is that I'm just a bit run down and sleepless from the great never-ending tension headache.

Thanks again!
posted by nerdfish at 2:17 AM on May 10, 2011

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