Headaches are the most common form of pain and a major reason cited for days missed at work or school as well as visits to the doctor, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Leading experts at Washington Adventist and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers offer advice to help stave off and treat headaches.

Talk to your doctor. A physician can discuss your symptoms and determine the best course of treatment.

“It is important for people to first learn what types of headaches they are getting so that they can seek the most effective treatment,” says Perry Smith, M.D., neurologist at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. “The most common headaches that people experience are tension headaches, which are associated with bandlike feelings of pressure and tightness and are typically caused by stress, posture or emotions such as anxiety and anger.”

Amir Zangiabadi, M.D., neurologist at Washington Adventist Hospital, explains the symptoms of migraines, which affect an estimated 28 million Americans. “Migraines consist of a throbbing headache that is associated with nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and/or sounds,” he says. “Some people may also experience a physiological warning that a migraine will begin, called an ‘aura,’ which causes vision changes such as seeing stars or zigzag lines.”

When it comes to the prevention and treatment of headaches, Drs. Smith and Zangiabadi note the importance of a healthy lifestyle including exercising regularly and getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Also:

  • Take an over-the-counter painkiller. Painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help reduce discomfort.
  • Manage stress and relax. Talk to someone if you are feeling overwhelmed. Practice deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
  • Manage your diet. Try to eliminate or avoid food or drinks that are possible headache triggers, such as cheeses, chocolate and processed meats.
  • Keep a headache diary. Tracking headaches and other habits may help identify triggers.

Signs That It’s Serious

Occasionally, headaches are a sign of a more serious medical condition. If you experience headaches on a regular basis, experts suggest contacting your primary care physician.

You should seek emergency medical attention if your headache is:

  • New or different or could be classified as “the worst of your life”
  • Severe and localized to one eye, with redness in that eye
  • Associated with paralysis, loss of balance, numbness or tingling
  • Associated with fever, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting
  • Associated with a seizure, head trauma or loss of consciousness
  • Accompanied by changes in vision, speech or behavior

Around-The-Clock Care

The neurology teams at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centerand Washington Adventist Hospitals now include neurology hospitalists who provide around-the-clock care to patients in the hospital. The dedicated neurology hospitalists include Perry Smith, M.D., and Amir Zangiabadi, M.D. Neurologists are physicians who treat conditions that affect the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves.