My head hurts
August 21, 2008 12:34 AM   Subscribe

What do you do when you have a headache?

I am a fairly regular migrane sufferer, every 2 months or so i have a massive headache. I sit in a dark room for a few hours really uncomfortable, the headache is usually ceremoniously brought to a finish by vomiting, then i usually feel a whole lot better.
Right now I've had a headache for two days, its similar to my migraney feel but less intense (as in, i can type this question, im not in a angished ball on the floor) and usually i can go to sleep and feel fine the next day, but not today im afriad.
Anyway, it got me thinking what you usually do for a persistant headache, do you have any remedies?

(drugs have been taken, im also wearing sunglasses)

posted by Neonshock to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If this doesn't go, and due to the change in character from what is 'normal' for you, then seeing a doctor about it would be worthwhile.

Also, have you had your vision / eye health tested recently, or vision problems with this particular headache? A friend of mine a few years back went for an eye check up due to thinking her prescription needed changing and was causing her headaches - these turned out to be the first sympton of a detatching retina. She was lucky to have it caught early and only needed relatively minor eye surgery, but it's been an incident that's flagged up in my memory ever since whenever anyone mentions persistent headaches.
posted by protorp at 12:59 AM on August 21, 2008

My mom has been plagued with almost this exact thing for at least the last 20 years. Hers usually involves a lot more vomiting. Go to the doctor. She's asked her doctor about it, but never pursued any diagnosis or treatment (I have no idea why). Go to the doctor until it is fixed. Nothing (and we've tried just about everything you can think of to alleviate them) seems to work. That said, my mom swears by (generic) tylenol sinus, but they're clearly not working (and she takes them every day).

Her triggers are getting overexcited, overexerted, and/or spending all day in the sun. (So, every time one of us kids would have some big game, she was laid out for the next two days for the cheering.)
posted by phunniemee at 1:17 AM on August 21, 2008

If you've had a headache for two days, go to the doctor, get checked out, and talk about prescriptions. (Triptans like Imitrex work for a lot of people.) If your doctor has diagnosed you with migraines before, s/he might be willing to call in a prescription to your local pharmacy. In the meanwhile, you can try to ingest some caffeine, or take a shower, which seems to help a lot of migraine sufferers. There are also neck exercises you can try to relieve tension, just carefully stretching your neck a little or tilting your head from side to side. But really, if the headache has lasted this long, and this kind of duration is new to you, you really ought to get it checked out, just to rule out anything more serious.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 2:16 AM on August 21, 2008

Rather than giving my eyes - even sunglassed - anything to have to deal with, I often keep my eyes shut for as much as possible. Sometimes I even lie down and put a towel over my eyes so no light can get in at all.

Eyestrain, I find, is one of the most frequent causes of my headaches.
posted by angryjellybean at 3:03 AM on August 21, 2008

Also, have you been checked for allergies? I used to get migraines a lot when I was younger, and it turned out I was allergic to oranges/anything containing orange. I actually outgrew this, but it might be worth having some tests.
posted by angryjellybean at 3:04 AM on August 21, 2008

Excedrin Migraine and the lying-down-in-a-dark-room thing usually work for me. That said, I was talking to a coworker yesterday about an increase in frequency/duration of migraines lately, and she said that when hers last more than a day, she has her chiropractor do some sort of special adjustment and they go away. I am leery of chiropractors so I can't speak to their efficacy for migraines myself, but for whatever it's worth, she swears by it. If you're miserable enough or interested in that type of medicine anyway, might be worth a shot.
posted by Stacey at 3:29 AM on August 21, 2008

Normally when I have a headache it's one of two things. Either I'm dehydrated so I drink water or it's transferred neck/back pain from an old whiplash accident so I go see my chiropractor. Your back may be out. I know a lot of people are leery of chiros and they're not all equal so if you do go, research yours carefully first. Having said that, mine has made excruciating pain disappear.
posted by Jubey at 4:16 AM on August 21, 2008

If the "persistant headache" really is a migraine, I take Maxalt (this works about 30% of the time for me); however, if it isn't a migraine, this can give you an even worse headache.
posted by onshi at 4:21 AM on August 21, 2008

Relpax makes me go from "omg screaming puking migraine" to "hey, wouldn't it be fun to go to a loud concert now" in about 15 minutes.
posted by dmd at 4:25 AM on August 21, 2008

I feel for you, Neonshock. I suffer from migraines as well, although they don't induce vomiting. Nthing the Excedrin migraine and a nice cup of coffee - they seem to work the best for me. In addition, for some strange reason, I feel much better if I exercise instead of lying down. 45 minutes or so on the elliptical machine gets my blood moving and definitely lessens the pain for me. Feel better!
posted by Nutritionista at 4:30 AM on August 21, 2008

Really though it could be anything from being dehydrated, to eye issues, to possibly heart issues. Go to a doctor and get checked out and have them do blood work for cholesterol. I am not a doctor, but that was one of the first things they did when I complained of a headache and it turned out I had high blood pressure and higher than ideal cholesterol.
posted by eatcake at 4:57 AM on August 21, 2008

Here are some ideas that aren't medicine based (though I agree a visit to the doctor is a good idea--Imitrex was a miracle for me):
go ahead and make yourself vomit. Sometimes this helps, as does crying.
having an orgasm can sometimes help (and if not, where's the harm?)
plunging your hands into ice water can divert some of the blood that is causing the distention of the blood vessels and the pain.
drink a massive amount of coffee
massage the fleshy part between finger and thumb, or your ear lobe
take some niacin

Good luck, migraine is no fun
posted by thebrokedown at 5:07 AM on August 21, 2008

IMETREX, the blessed compound.

...migraine sufferer for 35 years, everything changed for me
once Imetrex was invented (and i started taking it). nothing else ever worked.
posted by The_Auditor at 6:10 AM on August 21, 2008

I'm linking to this article where a famous musician tells the story of his runs with migraine because it mentions something that I've come to discover works for me as well:

I’ve found in the last four years that I do get headaches, but if I’m more conscious and aware and can get to them quicker with something as simple as some Advil, they don’t escalate.

The article is pretty interesting, and that is one of the highlights for me, the fact that if you take almost any painkiller as soon as possible after you start noticing the symptoms of an upcoming migraine (and there are many), it really makes a difference in the way it will strike you that day. A huge difference.

It may not help you today, as you've already had this headache for a couple of days, but it might help you next time.

Here's hoping that you feel better.
posted by micayetoca at 6:15 AM on August 21, 2008

Micayetoca is right... nipping it in the bud is critical. My neurologist said to take three Advil at the slightest hint I will have a headache -- and if it goes even a bit past that, immediately take Maxalt. But often, if you have been dehydrated, or squinting in the sun, or are going to get your period, just take the Advil to derail the headache. But have a prescription remedy avaiable as a fallback -- so go to the doctor and get one.
posted by mmf at 6:32 AM on August 21, 2008

definitely take pain killers as soon as you notice the headache coming on.

dark room, silence, and caffine usually help me a little.

sadly, chronic migraines are difficult to treat/diagnose the cause. some docs will just toss topamax or something similar at you, when really your migraines could be caused by being out of alignment or something that can be fixed and not just medicated.

honestly, once every couples months isn't that often (thought i'm not trying to deminish the pain you're in).

if you've never brought up your migraines with your doc, you should at your next visit so you can start figuring out what causes them and how you can treat them.

also, have you made note of your triggers? red wine is a trigger for many people. too much caffine is a trigger for some, as is chocolate. just something to think about when you're getting ready fory our doc's appt.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:34 AM on August 21, 2008

I get them when dehydrated, my lytes are off, or allergies. So preventive: stay hydrated, keep my potassium levels up (raisins), and take allergy pills during allergy season (Chlortrimeton and/or Zyrtec). When those fail and I get a headache I step up to two Excedrin migraine & Gatorade.

If those don't work I'm generally in a lot of pain and/or seeing auras (wavy lines or most other car's daytime running lights brighter than the sun), so it's nuke it with a nasal spray Imitrex (quicker than the pills), kill all sources of noise, and curl up in a fetal position underneath the blankets in my bed, preferably with my fiancee. Usually I can fall asleep and wake up a few hours later with it sort of hiding in the background and it'll be gone when I wake up the next day. I follow up with Imitrex just in case.

One thing to note though - I've also used Imitrex to stay awake after a red eye flight. I'm more sensitive to it in this respect, but be aware it can screw with your sleep pretty badly.
posted by jwells at 6:35 AM on August 21, 2008

I am the opposite of some here-- I can't take triptans and caffeine my main trigger, so I stay away from Excedrin and coffee. Also, a hot shower sounds like death to me when I have a migraine.

When I get a migraine and I don't have access to my meds or they aren't working (Midrin and narcotics) I put an ice pack on my head. I learned that at camp when I was 12. It doesn't solve the problem, but it does help me a little.
posted by Pax at 6:40 AM on August 21, 2008

Also, you aren't totally clear if your doctor knows about your migraines, what your meds are, and what your triggers, so I'll throw in some triggers that I have experienced: caffeine, chocolate, msg, red wine, hangover, not enough sleep, not exercising, sinus infections.
posted by Pax at 6:46 AM on August 21, 2008

I get migraines, though rarely. I've never taken a prescription drug for them. Pretty much any of my headaches can cross the barrier into migraine-land under the right conditions, and my current practice is to take excedrin migraine right away when I feel a headache coming on.

Drinking a coke and lying down in a quiet, dark room has helped on occasion, but it's not as effective for me.
posted by adamrice at 6:55 AM on August 21, 2008

Couple of things. I've had migraines since childhood, and it wasn't until I was well into my 30s that I learned that my trigger is usually low blood sugar, rather than a specific food. Eating a high-protein, sugar- and grain-free diet has helped immensely - I've gone from biweekly migraines (and Imitrex injections) to maybe 2 or 3 a year.

When I do get one, I get my neck adjusted by my chiropractor, and the pain usually goes away shortly thereafter - within a couple hours. If I can't get to the chiro, caffeine usually helps, but it might take a day or two.

I also use coffee medicinally as a preventive measure - if I don't have a small cup early in the morning, every day, I'm likely to get a migraine.
posted by chez shoes at 7:18 AM on August 21, 2008

(1) Eat or sleep, if I'm low on either commodity.

(2) Turn off the tv, and put the kids to bed.

(3) Classical music sometimes helps.

(4) tylenol

But I rarely have migraines. Rarely = less than once a year.

A friend of mine used to have horrible migraines, that included lying on the floor in the dark and vomiting. YMMV, but she used to alleviate the worst pain by vigorously flossing her teeth. I have no idea how that could have helped, but it did. She also used to rub essential oils just her jawline (usually pine or fir scented stuff - it was horrible). She claimed it helped but I think it would have made the symptoms worse. She had some of the same triggers as Pax: caffeine, lack of sleep, menstrual problems (not sure if you're a female), and martinis, but not red wine. You could tell when she was going to have one because her face and neck would get really red and flushed.

IANAD, but she turned out to have extremely high blood pressure, just like eatcake. This is an extreme case, but she had two massive strokes at 42. (Her bp was actually 210/180.) She's now taking several different types of medicine, and her blood pressure much lower, although it's still now normal. She only has migraines once or twice a year now, instead of every week.

I'm seriously not trying to say you're going to have a stroke, though. Please take her story as anecdote only. Her doctor said it was an extremely rare case.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 7:24 AM on August 21, 2008

I am a regular severe headache sufferer and beyond many of the things mentioned above, I have found that massaging a pressure point in my hand helps greatly.

Open your hand, and find the sore spot in the "webbed" area between your thumb and pointer finger . Try both hands, one area in there will be noticibly sore (at the outer edge it will just feel like skin, but move inward until you find the spot). Massage it with the other thumb and pointer finger for as long as it takes, but usually only a few minutes of this and I feel loads better.

Also, most of my several-day long headaches ended up being allergies or sinus issues. Maybe you could try a decongestant.
posted by agentwills at 7:31 AM on August 21, 2008

A headache and a migraine are two completely different things. I get headaches. I talke Alleve and get away from noise and sound. My gf gets migraines. She takes a special migraine medicine (Imetrix). If you really have migraines, as opposed to frequent headaches, then you should be asking your doctor this. OTC stuff and herbal bullshit wont help.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:34 AM on August 21, 2008

Also, a lot of people who think they have migraines are actually suffering from severe caffeine withdrawal. This is surprisingly frequent since Starbucks and other espresso shops reintroduced people to casual 300-800 mg of caffeine daily, without warning them on what happens when you stop.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:37 AM on August 21, 2008

Phalene, relaxation is unlikely to cause vaso constriction, as you mentioned. It is far more likely that you are suffering from tension headaches, or referral pain from trigger points (quite possibly in your upper traps, perhaps from sternocleidomastoid, scalenes also). Tension headaches can be treated with relaxation and circulatory work.

With a migraine, the number one priority should be to determine the trigger of your attacks. Is it loud noise, a strong scent, related to hormones (esp. in women), sleep-related (too much or too little), too much work in front of a monitor, etc. From there, you just need to avoid triggers--this will significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of attacks.
posted by smartless at 10:35 AM on August 21, 2008

MSG and sugar can also be really common triggers...
posted by smartless at 10:35 AM on August 21, 2008

If you want to try treating migraines without medication, start with rest, dark room, water, caffeine.

Caffeine can be a really useful treatment because it is a vaso constrictor. Unlike other types of headaches, the pain of a migraine headache is a result of dilation of blood vessels in the head and neck.

Caffeine ftw.
posted by smartless at 10:40 AM on August 21, 2008

Nthing caffeine. If you aren't already addicted, it's a great little boost in energy and dulls pain. If you are addicted, I hate to say it, but may as well have the hair of the dog that bit you, and it'll still help. Recent studies have shown benefits to regular caffeine consumption, so I see the only reasons to quit would be economic or wanting to get back to the phase where caffeine gave you a boost. Quitting caffeine, of course, means 48 hours cold turkey, where you feel like crap, so you're probably not keen on that.

To save some cash, please make your own. Find a supermarket brand you like (Eight O'Clock is mine), and use something like an Aeropress (My BFF appliance) or a good drip machine to make as much as you like, how you like it, whenever you want it. That'll keep you away from Starbucks, which, as a headache cure, probably rivals with big pharmaceuticals' margins.

I don't get migraines, but when my head bothers me, I tend to take an Advil with an espresso chaser. If you're the type to worry about ibuprofin stomachaches, have some crackers or something with it, or something that goes well with espresso to enhance a headache cure into a ritual. Rituals tend to help the mind shift gears and relax, so that sheds stress and makes you feel better, too.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:59 AM on August 21, 2008

IMITREX is fairly awesome for migraines.

Another thing I rely on heavily while waiting for it to kick in, is usually an ice-gel pack (wrapped in a tea towel) in between my neck and the pillow I'm lying on.
Another ice pack for the forehead/eyes. I have a few packs that are made of cloth and filled with some kind of tiny bean. They are good for the top, since conform nicely to the contours of my eyes for a little bit more relief.
A sympathetic stuffed animal tucked into the crook of my arm seems to help, too. (blush)

Buckwheat pillows are very nice to rest your sore head on.
posted by Tbola at 12:22 PM on August 21, 2008

Lifelong migraine sufferer here, with similar symptoms (I don't actually vomit, but tend to get very nauseous). My doctor advised me against taking Triptans (e.g. Imitrex), as these have very serious risks if you have blood vessel problems or extra high/low blood pressure (seems to be a contradiction there, but she argued that these are just not worth the risk). Some tips that I have picked up from experimentaiton and other migraine sufferers are:
* Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine have a very rapid vaso constrictor effect - migraine tends to be the result of too much dilation of the blood vessels in the membrane surrounding the brain, which has the effect of a "tightening band" around the head - reduce the dilation and you reduce the pain. These also help with the nasal congestion that often makes migraine worse. You can only buy pseudoephedrine by request in the US (it is apparently used to make crystal meth), but it is way more effective than its replacement, phenylephrine. If you have the slightest high blood pressure, go easy on using pseudoephedrine - only one dose every 24 hours.
* Take painkiller tablets with a fizzy drink or soda water and take them early -- don't put this off, or they don't work as well. I use Migraine Excedrin, which is just their standard high dose mixture of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine. The carbon dioxide in the drink opens the throat, which makes tablets easier to swallow (a useful trick with bedridden patients).
* Diet Coke really helps to relieve a bad migraine, especially if taken with a painkiller. For some reason, standard Coke does not have the same effect -- I have heard this from a lot of migraine sufferers -- so it is not just the caffeine, but probably the Aspartame combination. This immediately makes me feel better - clearer head - which helps me to sleep (the big migraine reliever).
* Like chez shoes, I find that low blood sugar is the most common trigger -- this can come on quiet suddenly. Always have breakfast, even if you don't feel like it. Recent research has indicated that a couple of eggs daily are a lot less bad for you than previously thought and also help you to lose weight, if eaten for breakfast (source = BMJ study reported on BBC website). So try an egg sandwich in the morning (steer clear of allergens like mayonnaise with the eggs - 7/11 do a good plain egg sandwich without much filler) and then have smaller meals throughout the day. Also seconding damn dirty ape, about caffeine withdrawal -- I save my caffeine intake for when I have a migraine and tend to avoid too much caffeine consumption on a regular basis (I also avoid Coca Cola unless I have a migraine).
Best of luck -- I have managed to bring my migraine under control -- I hope you do too!
posted by Susurration at 1:45 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lifelong migraine sufferer here from as far back as I can remember.

At the first sign of a migraine coming on I take 2 Excedrin Migraine pills. I have them constantly within reach. Seriously. In my car, at home, in my purse, in my desk at work. If I don't feel some relief within 10 - 15 minutes, then it's defintely time to find a dark room and get some shut eye, preferably with a nice cold ice pack.

Over the years I've learned to get to the migraine before it gets to me. That's key. Don't assume for a minute that it will get better and go away on its own. This is easier said than done in the middle of the night when the thought of having to get up, go downstairs, get the pills and open the dreaded refrigerator with its very bright lights to grab a drink and ice pack. Ouch!

Only twice in my life have I had a migraine come on so quickly that nothing I did would prevent it and a Demerol shot was required to ease the pain.

For now you need to turn off the computer and relax in a nice dark room. I hope you find some relief soon! Nthing the migraines are no fun chant!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 2:34 PM on August 21, 2008

I've just come back from a doctor's appointment for a 3-day marathon headache with crazy photosensitivity. He gave me Imitrex for the future, but said that this far in, the best thing to do is take 600 mg of ibuprofen, three times a day with food. I'm to take it for five days unless the headache stops sooner (which, dear god, I hope it does, because if I still feel like this in five days I am going to jump off a cliff.)
posted by Stacey at 5:44 PM on August 21, 2008

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