Headaches have a way of popping up at all the wrong times—your daughter's dance recital, a crucial meeting at work, the day you're throwing a party for family and friends. As women, we're particularly at risk: About one in five of us will experience the pounding sensation of a migraine, but only half of sufferers will ever receive a diagnosis. If the problem is so common, why are we suffering in silence? "There's a perception that it's normal for women to get headaches," says B. Lee Peterlin, D.O., director of headache research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, who also adds that some of us don't recognize the problem—even when it has become chronic. Other times, we trudge through the pain in an effort to do it all for the family. (You know what happens to your household when you check out. Not pretty.) It's time to take action—because you have more control over the ache than you think.
Preventing the Pain
There are plenty of options that may help. If the pain is mild, an over-the counter option might suffice, but if you're having severe attacks at least three days a month, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription.
SupplementsGood for: Migraines, Chronic Tension
Magnesium (300 to 500 mg per day), Coenzyme Q10 (300 mg per day) or riboflavin (400 mg per day) can reduce the frequency and severity of headaches.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers Good for: Migraines, Tension
Anti-inflammatories like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can dull the ache. Some experts recommend avoiding formulas that contain caffeine; frequent use can cause rebound headaches.
Triptans Good for: Migraines
Meds like frovatriptan, naratriptan and zolmitriptan stop attacks and corresponding nausea or sensitivity to light. Unless pain is mild, resist the wait-and-see approach. The sooner you take these, the more effective they are.
Antidepressants Good for: Migraines
Certain antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil) and venlafaxine (Effexor), help balance brain chemicals and are well tolerated in women, even those who don't have depression. But keep in mind that this condition is associated with migraines, so using antidepressants can treat both problems at once.
Anti-Seizure DrugsGood for: Migraines, Cluster
Taking these meds daily helps suppress the nerve activity associated with migraines. Although many are linked to weight gain, topiramate (Topamax) may decrease appetite and help women slim down.
Hormonal Birth Control Good for: Migraines, Chronic Tension
Continuous/extended-cycle packs, like Seasonique, keep hormones level throughout the month. If you already have a preferred brand and don't want to switch, talk to your physician about skipping the placebo week on three out of every four packs.
Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.
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