It’s probably one of the most common questions I hear (or see). Basically, someone has a headache – maybe it’s getting worse and worse – and they don’t know what to do.
A lot of different people fit into this category. Maybe they’ve had something similar a few times, and they’re getting fed up. Maybe it feels like it’s the worst headache they’ve ever had. Maybe they get headaches all the time, but have never really taken the time to stop and look for answers.
So you have a headache – a bad headache. What should you do?
What to do when you get a headache…
- Recognize that this is not “normal”. You should not “just live with it”. It’s not “just your imagination”. It’s not something “everyone just has to deal with”.
- See a doctor. If this is something that has happened many times, you could schedule an appointment for next week and discuss your symptoms with your doctor. If it’s the worst headache you’ve ever had, or the symptoms have changed, or it’s the first headache of its kind that you’ve ever had, get to a doctor now. Pay attention to your symptoms and tell the doctor anything you can. Yes, a headache can be a sign of something very serious.
- Do NOT take someone else’s prescription medication. Medications and even dosages can vary drastically based on your weight, your age, your medical history, your symptoms, and other factors. Medication that is considered “safe” for one person can be dangerous for someone else. Resist the temptation.
- Be very cautious with “over the counter” medications, and supplements. It’s usually not a bad thing, in rare cases, to take an Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (paracetamol/acetaminophen) while you’re waiting to see the doctor. However, recognize that almost any medication – and many supplements – have the potential to make your symptoms worse over time. Herbal supplements and vitamin treatments can be dangerous because they’re not regulated in the same way as drugs usually are. Taking a couple of painkillers before going to the doctor isn’t usually a problem. Avoiding the doctor and taking painkillers every week is.
- Cautiously consider “home remedies”. I’ve already talked about vitamins and herbs and things like that. Here I’m talking about other things you can do to soothe your headache (while you’re waiting to see a doctor). This may mean lying down in a dark room. A cold pack on the head. Breathing exercises. A warm bath. A cup of tea. There are many things you can try, depending on the type of headache you have. There’s no magic formula for everyone, but there are a number of things that can help you feel better. There may come a time to get a friend to watch the kids, to take the day off work, and deal with the pain. Sometimes you have to keep going, but many of us keep going to the detriment of our future health. (PS – don’t spend two hours scouring the internet for home remedies. Just do something now that will help you feel a little better.)
- Make a note of your symptoms. The more you can do this, the better your doctor can help you. How bad is the pain on a scale of 1 to 10? When did it start? Does light bother you? Is the pain pounding, or sharp, or a constant pressure? What makes it worse? What helps you feel better? All these details can help you get the treatment you need.
- Don’t be overwhelmed with information. There’s a lot of information on this site and elsewhere that can be a lot of help as time goes by. But be careful about printing off too much information before you’ve even talked to your doctor. A headache can be caused be a lot of different things, and there are countless treatments. Take things one step at a time.
Yes, but my Doctor isn’t helping Me!
Sadly, there are times when this initial visit to the doctor is less than helpful. I’ll write more about that situation later. But in the mean time, here are a couple of things to keep in mind…
- If your doctor says it’s not “serious” – she may actually be telling you that she’s fairly certain that your condition is not life-threatening. And that’s not a bad thing. Ok, maybe she doesn’t realize the pain you’re going through, or maybe she’s taking it too lightly. But she does have a lot of training, and she has seen a lot of patients, and it’s possible that she’s not just trying to get you out of her office. Don’t assume immediately that your doctor doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
- At the same time – don’t be afraid to find another doctor. If you really feel that your doctor isn’t listening, or simply that you need another opinion – take the time to go to someone else. I know it’s frustrating, and that you shouldn’t have to go through all this trouble when you already feel terrible. But your health is important. And this is something to take seriously.
I know you’re in pain, and I know it was a pain to read all of this, and I know you want to relieve the pain NOW. Trust me, I’ve been there. And I’m trying to save you a lot of pain down the road.
This post doesn’t answer all of your questions. That’s because I want you to focus on what you need to focus on first – noting your symptoms, and getting to a doctor. It’s not a solution, but it’s critical to start there.