“I don’t feel like going; I have a headache.”
“I just need to sleep a little bit so this headache will go away.”
“Honey, can you pick us up some more pain relievers? My headache is back.”
Sound familiar? Every ten seconds someone in the United States goes to the emergency department with a headache according to the migraine research foundation. Many do not realize that migraines are neurological disease. In fact, the World Health Organizations (WHO) estimates that 47% of the adult population has experienced a headache at least once within the last year. With our hectic lives, many of us feel headaches are a burden we have to deal with. Turns out, the WHO considers headaches the 19th most debilitating disease we face. Here’s the good news: treatments are available.
Dr. Shirin Issa, a neurologist at Mercy Northwest Arkansas newly established headache clinic, is committed to educating and helping patients lead a life uninterrupted by this common condition. Dr. Issa is one of only 416 neurologists in the United States who hold the distinct certification of the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties in the area of headaches.
“So many myths surround people’s understanding of headaches,” said Dr. Issa. “One such myth is that they are ‘normal’ part of life. People lose track of how often a headache affects their life. It’s a little time here and a family activity there. It would surprise most just how much ‘life’ headaches steal from them.” That’s why Dr. Issa has all of her patients keep a journal to track the frequency of headaches and how much medicine they have to take to function. The diary also is very helpful to figure out what triggers their headaches.
Everyone has different headache triggers. For some, it may be foods like chocolate or cheese while for others it might be one’s stress level or even the weather. Identifying these is important to ending a patient’s suffering. “We do not want headaches to manage you, but for you to manage your headaches and eventually overcome them,” Dr. Issa explained. She says it’s key to give patients the tools they need to control their headaches before they have a chance to progress. “Patients who can become aware and take quick action at the onset can abort the attack before it has a chance to increase in intensity. This type of systematic approach can bring a great deal of success decreasing a patient’s headache frequency and duration. Dr. Issa sees this as her life’s work. “In essence, I’m trying to give my patients valuable time back in their lives that headaches were taking.”
Frequent headaches can often bring a cabinet full of over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription pain medicines. “Over using pain medicine can be a headache patient’s worst enemy,” Dr. Issa warned. “What most people do not realize is over-the-counter meds can cause rebound headaches which loop the patient right back to where they started.”
Dr. Issa tailors her approach to the individual and their lifestyle. “Some patients need help transitioning from acute pain medicine that has become a regular part of their life routine. We detox them slowly and then replace the medicine with preventive measures. At that point, a patient is already developing more control of their situation.”
Dr. Issa uses a variety of approaches to treat headaches. The first step is completing a comprehensive questionnaire and talking through the patient’s individual situation. From there, Dr. Issa can help patients balance lifestyle triggers like sleep habits, diet, caffeine intake and battles with anxiety or depression.
“Headaches come in many different flavors, with certainly migraine being very common and yet often undiagnosed” Dr. Issa commented. It is my focus to work with the patient to determine what type of headache they have, and then together we create an approach in which they are comfortable. Treatment approaches can range from natural minerals and vitamins to pharmacological medications or Botox injections. Dr. Issa also advocates using nerve blocks and trigger point injections for pain relief. “When I help a patient with a debilitating headache manage their pain and gain back control of their lives that is a very satisfying transformation,” said Dr. Issa.
Remember: you don’t have to live with the pain. Dr. Issa said, “Headaches are not ‘normal’, and they most certainly can be treated.”