Headaches: Evaluation and Treatment

Submitted on June 20, 2010 - 2:06pm

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Health Science magazine.

The occasional headache is a common problem experienced by many people in the United States. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), as many as 45 million Americans have chronic severe headaches that result in more than 8 million visits to doctors every year.

For 26 years, the doctors at the TrueNorth Health Center have successfully treated headaches with a combination of medicine, physiotherapy, diet and lifestyle modification, and water-only fasting. Our approach accounts for the many triggers and causes of headaches when treating a patient.

What causes a headache?
When you get a headache, several areas can hurt, including a network of nerves that extends over the scalp; certain nerves in the face, mouth, and throat; the muscles of the head; and blood vessels found along the surface and at the base of the brain that contain delicate nerve fibers.  Lacking pain-sensitive nerve fibers, the brain itself does not hurt.

When nociceptors (the ends of the pain-sensitive nerves) are stimulated by stress, muscular tension, dilated blood vessels, and other headache triggers, they send a message to the brain via chemicals that transmit pain-related information, including endorphins, natural painkilling proteins. Research suggests that some people may be more susceptible to severe headaches, or other chronic pain, because they have lower levels of endorphins than people who are generally pain-free.

Doctors classify headaches by their cause. Primary headaches have no underlying illness, whereas secondary headaches are caused by other illnesses, trauma, or brain disorders.

Primary headaches account for more than 90 percent of headaches, and their causes include: tension (muscular contraction), vascular (migraine), and cluster headaches not caused by other underlying medical conditions.

Common headache triggers include certain foods, stress, weather changes, and sometimes medication.  The use of and the withdrawal from drugs utilized to control high blood pressure, treat ulcers, control seizures, relieve pain, and birth control pills have been known to cause headaches. 

Our approach to treatment
At the TrueNorth Health Center we take a team approach to the assessment and treatment of patients who have problems with chronic headaches.

The first step in our evaluation process involves a comprehensive review of medical history, current symptoms and medication use, etc., followed by a phone consultation with me. I assess your situation to determine if you are a good candidate for the TrueNorth Health program.

Perhaps the most powerful tool in overcoming severe headaches is the use of medically supervised water-only fasting. Fasting helps the body and brain to recalibrate itself and in the process eliminate many of the contributing causes of chronic headache.  As the director of our fasting program, I have supervised the fasts of over 7,000 individuals during the past 26 years. Fasting periods range from 5 to 40 days and the total duration of care ranges from one week to two months.

Once at our center, one of our medical doctors will review your medical history, perform a physical examination, order or review laboratory tests and imaging studies, and evaluate any use of medications, herbs, supplements etc.  The medical doctors at TrueNorth Health are experienced in helping individuals safely withdraw from the medications that are often a major part of the ongoing problem with chronic headache.

Other members of our team who may be involved include Erwin Linzner, D.C., who utilizes numerous physiotherapy techniques including the Graston Technique, which is a form of instrument-assisted soft tissue therapy designed to release adhesions in soft tissue that result from neck injuries including car accidents, etc., which can contribute to chronic headache.  We also offer functional movement assessments with Alec Isabeau, D.C., who looks at the body's overall integration and offers specific exercise interventions designed to restore optimum function. We may also recommend the use of various forms of body work including massage.

The dietary approach recommended includes avoiding the common triggers for headaches including alcohol, animal foods including dairy products, added oil, salt and sugar and, if indicated, soy, wheat and corn products. 

We have found this team approach integrating appropriate medical management, chiropractic intervention, soft-tissue therapies, exercise, sleep and medically supervised fasting followed by a health promoting vegan diet to be successful in helping individuals overcome chronic headache.  To find out if our approach is right for you,  complete our admissions forms and call us at 707-586-5555 for a consultation.