When you suffer from headaches, you know how painful they can be and how they can disrupt your life.
When you suffer from headaches, you know how painful they can be and how they can disrupt your life. It can be difficult to find someone that will listen to you and find a treatment plan that works well for your needs.
At the Headache Center, part of the Northwell Health Neuroscience Institute, we specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of headaches caused by neurologic and psychiatric illnesses, as well as hard-to-treat migraines. Many patients who suffer from severe headache disorders require a personalized headache treatment plan and a higher level of care that may only be available in a specialized outpatient or inpatient program.
The Headache Center provides headache treatment plans for migraines, cluster headache, facial pain, sinus headaches, tension headaches and related conditions. The center employs a multidisciplinary team that includes physicians, nurse practitioners, psychological care providers and rehabilitation professionals who offer medical therapy as well as interventional options for the treatment of the entire spectrum of headaches.
Types of Headaches
Headaches are classified in two general categories:
- Primary headaches are headaches in which the head pain is the problem itself. Most severe headaches are primary headaches. The most common primary headaches include migraine, status migrainousus (migraines lasting over 72 hours), menstrual migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headache (one-sided head pain).
- Secondary headaches mean that the head pain is a symptom of an underlying condition. The most common secondary headaches include those attributed to:
- Head or neck trauma
- Cranial or cervical vascular disorders
- Nonvascular intracranial disorder
- Use of a substance or withdrawal
- Disorder of homeostasis
- Psychiatric condition
- Disorders of cranium, neck, eyes, ears, nose, sinuses, teeth, mouth or other facial or cranial structure
- A result of a brain tumor or abnormal blood vessel (in rare cases)
Understanding Your Headache Symptoms
There can be a variety of causes of your headache pain, including genetics, hormones, stress, diet, medications and dehydration. Recurrent headaches of any type can cause behavioral problems and/or depression. The most common of all headache symptoms is the head pain itself. This can occur in many ways: continuously, intermittently or reactively. Pain may be dull, sharp, stabbing or throbbing or present as a combination of different types of discomfort.
You may also have a range of associated headache symptoms along with the head pain, including:
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Skin sensitivity
- Worsening pain with movement
- Difficulty with hearing, speaking, balance and/or coordination
- Mood can be affected and social interactions damaged in severe cases
Diagnosing Your Headache
To obtain the most effective headache treatment, it’s vital to have the correct diagnosis made by a professional. Many people with headaches are incorrectly assessed as having a sinus problems or tension headaches when they actually have migraine headaches. This can lead to inappropriate or unnecessary treatment and prolonged disability. A large majority of people with migraine headaches in the United States have still not been diagnosed, and therefore are not treated correctly.
Being evaluated by a neurologist or a headache specialist who can develop a specialized headache treatment plan is important. The headache specialist will take a log of your medical and family history. A number of questions will be asked to get a better understanding of the symptoms of your head pain. A complete examination of the head, neck, muscles, senses, reflexes and coordination will be done. These tests are extremely important to make sure the proper diagnosis is reached.
Occasionally, the following tests may be needed to make certain there are no underlying causes of the headaches:
- CT scan (CAT scan) — This type of scan creates images of the brain using radiation and computer technology. Sequential “slices” of the scan can demonstrate irregular activity in the brain such as hemorrhage, tumor or infection.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) — An MRI machine is a scanning device that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce images and detect diseased tissue noninvasively.
- Transcranial and Carotid Dopplers – These are non invasive ultrasound studies of blood vessels in the head and neck that can be assessed to determine blockages or tears disrupting blood flow.
Effective Treatment for Your Headache
Outpatient treatment at the Headache Center includes education about headache disorders, the identification of headache triggers and the development of a headache treatment plan for management of the headache problem.
In addition, our program offers an outpatient infusion center and an inpatient program which provides a safe and comfortable environment for treatment options such as medication detoxification, as well as intravenous medication to help break severe headache cycles. The inpatient setting can also help the patient get used to complex headache treatment regimens and provide monitoring for individuals with co-existing medical problems.
The best treatment for headache management is always determined after proper diagnosis and trigger identification. It is important to isolate what triggers headaches and if behavioral methods can be used to avoid the triggers in the first place.
The Headache Center provides two main approaches to headache treatment; medical treatment and pain management.