Headaches topic of UVMC forum

Staff report

TROY — Headaches are an important health topic for women, participants in the Premier Health’s Women Wisdom Wellness series heard during a program on “Headaches and Hormones: Connecting the Dots” in Troy, recently.

The series is designed to educate women about key health issues, said Diane Pleiman, chief operating officer of Upper Valley Medical Center. It is no secret, she said, that women tend to look out for everyone around them before themselves.

“It is vital to take care of you, so you can be the best you can be for everyone else,” Pleiman said.

Women experience headaches more often than men and a history of a patient’s headaches is an important piece of information for any treatment effort, said Dr. Elizabeth Marriott, of the Premier Health Clinical Neuroscience Institute.

Among types of headache are primary, such as migraines that often have pain and nausea and cause light and sound sensitivity; tension, a band of pain across the forehead; secondary headaches, which have an underlying illness or injury; and facial pain, which can affect older women, Marriott said.

Migraine headaches have a three-to-one prevalence in women, and one in four women will experience a migraine in her lifetime, she said.

Often more frequent and severe attacks can occur with fluctuations in a woman’s hormones and estrogen, with many saying the headaches are affected by their menstrual cycles and menopause, she said.

In treating headaches, “it is very important to have an idea of any kind of trigger” such as chocolate and artificial sweeteners, Marriott said.

Advice that often is given to headache patients includes the following:

• Eat meals at regular times.

• Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.

• Reduce stress.

• Relax with methods such as massage, exercise and deep breathing.

Dr. Katherine Bachman, obstetrician and gynecologist at Upper Valley Women’s Center, said women who experience migraines experience them differently from men. They usually are more chronic and longer in duration.

Being able to track when headaches occur is helpful in the selection of medication, if appropriate, Bachman said.

“It is a balancing act,” she said of any type of therapy. A regular menstrual cycle is key to medications working their best, she added.

Because there is no hormone product approved by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat headaches, hormonal treatment is often trial and error, Bachman said.

Diane Birchfield, UVMC dietitian, said elimination diets have been used in treatments of headaches/migraines. Patients are asked to avoid foods such as chocolate, aged cheeses, alcohol, caffeine and other items that could contribute to the pain.

A headache also could be a sign of hunger in some women, Birchfield said.

Staff report