The consequences of untreated headache disordersLast Updated:
- 38+ million people in the US have migraine.
- Fewer than 50% ever talk to their doctor about it.
- Many don’t even know they have migraine.
- Most people who think they have sinus headaches actually have migraine.
- People with cluster headaches often wait 8 years for a correct diagnosis.
- Most people have never even heard of New Daily Persistent Headache, Hemicrania Continua, and hundreds of other serious headache disorders.
Delaying or avoiding treatment for headache is playing a dangerous game. Most of us wait entirely too long to seek help because we don’t think “a headache” is worthy of medical treatment. Yet most headache disorders are so much more than “just a headache.” Unfortunately, almost no one truly understands this — not even doctors. People are often misdiagnosed and proper treatment delayed. It’s not their fault. People just don’t know how serious headache disorders can be. Plus, there are hundreds of different headache disorders. Only a headache specialist is qualified to distinguish the sometimes subtle differences of each one.
What you may think is “just a headache” could be so much more. You need to talk to your doctor if your “headaches” occur more than twice a month and cause you to miss work, social activities, family life, or other activities. Over time, debilitating headaches can get worse if not treated properly.
When headache disorders are left untreated or improperly treated, the attacks tend to get more severe and occur more frequently. It’s like a rut in the road — the more times it is traveled, the deeper it becomes and the more difficult it is to escape. Frequent and severe pain can interfere with our personal and professional lives, causing untold suffering and loss. The economic burden of migraine alone is over $31 BILLION every year.
Medication Overuse Headache
The expression “just take a pill” can actually do a lot of harm. We can easily get caught in the trap of taking more and more medication to stop “just a headache” while the pain gets more frequent and more difficult to stop. Even over-the-counter pain relievers like Motrin, Advil, Tylenol, Excedrin, Aleve, etc. can become a problem. The rule of thumb is to avoid taking any combination of pain relievers more often than 2-3 times per week. If you discover you need medicine more often, please see your doctor.
The solution to breaking Medication Overuse Headache (MOH) is to stop taking pain medicine. This actually makes the pain worse in the short term. Usually about 4-6 weeks after stopping the problem medicine(s), patients begin to feel better. However, MOH can cause long-term changes in the way our bodies perceive pain, making it much more difficult to treat the underlying headache disorder.
Depression & Anxiety
Pain, depression, and anxiety like to party together at your expense. Headache disorders are stigmatized, so people tend to hide the severity of their problem. This isolation can lead to feelings of depression. The unpredictable nature of headache disorders leaves many to worry constantly about when the next one will strike. Living in a constant state of “high alert” isn’t good for anyone.
Some headache disorders, particularly Migraine with Aura, increase the risk of stroke. The risk is higher for women, even those in their 20s who are also more likely to use birth control pills which also increase the stroke risk. Even without an aura, a prolonged migraine can result in a Migrainous Infarction (stroke) so any attack lasting longer than 72 hours should be evaluated by a qualified doctor.
So you don’t think migraine and other headache disorders can kill? WRONG.
Migraine increases your risk of stroke, Parkinson’s, and cardiovascular disease. Women with Migraine have a greater chance of dying from cardiovascular disease than women without Migraine. Plus, the forced inactivity can lead to obesity — a known risk factor for diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and much more.
Medications use to treat migraine can cause excessive weight gain or loss, kidney stones, kidney failure, glaucoma, liver damage, heart block, tooth decay and gum disease, nutritional deficiencies, cognitive impairment, excessive fatigue, loss of libido, low blood pressure, and the list goes on and on.
In addition to medication side effects, a migraine attack impairs thinking, concentration, and decision-making. It also slows reflexes, making it dangerous to drive during an attack. The level of impairment is similar to driving while sleepy or intoxicated. Don’t migraine and drive — your life depends on it!
If you manage to escape the physical toll of migraine, the emotional fallout may still be too much to take. Depression is all too common and suicides due to intractable headache pain are unfortunate realities. Migraine is a closeted disease that creates much suffering.
MIGRAINE CAN KILL.
So please, don’t wait. Get those “headaches” checked out and treated before it’s too late.