One of the most often heard complaints today is "I have a splitting headache". We heard this from everyone, be it our colleague at work or our spouse at home.
Considering the statistics - one-third of Indian women and one-fifth of Indian men suffer from migraine - the frequency is hardly of any surprise. Doctors blame lifestyle changes and stress for this literally gnawing headache and say that women suffer more than men.
At the very outset, it's important to know the difference between a headache and a migraine.
"Headache is a pain in the head region, while migraine is a type of headache. Migraine is not a disease but a syndrome. One should know that not every headache is a migraine, but a migraine can be termed as a headache," P.N. Renjen, senior consultant, neurology, at the Apollo Hospital, told IANS. Migraine is usually accompanied by a throbbing headache, photophobia and vomiting.
According to Renjen, around 30 percent of the patients he sees every day are cases related to headache and migraine.
"Women are more prone to headache and migraine because of hormonal changes in their body and the stress and strain of daily life," he said. Erratic meal timings and a bad sleep cycle are contributing factors.
"Around 75 percent of migraine sufferers are women," Manoj Khannal, consultant, neurology, at Max Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, told IANS. "Although the incidence of migraine is similar in boys and girls during childhood, it increases in girls after puberty. Migraine most commonly affects women in the age group of 20-45 years."
"Fluctuation of female hormones like estrogen and progesterone appear to increase the risk of migraine and its severity in some women. About half the women with migraine report headaches associated with their menstrual cycle. For some women, migraines also tend to be worse during the first trimester of their pregnancy, but improve during the last trimester," he added.
Warning against popping of pills at the drop of a hat, Rajashekhar Reddi, consultant in the neurology department of Max healthcare, said that too much medication can itself cause you a headache!
"It is not advisable to frequently pop pills. Too much medication can cause medication-overuse headache," he said. Too much of painkillers can also harm the kidneys and other organs.Migraine can be controlled. Khannal talked about one of his patients, a 35-year-old woman who came to him in December 2012 complaining of a throbbing type of headache for the last 10 years. Now the headache had become continuous. "We started her on anti-migraine medications and after reaching the adequate dose of prophylactic medications, her migraine was treated. She is headache- free for the last two months."
Neurologists, however, advise to watch out for symptoms that may indicate health complications beyond a headache or migraine attack.
Renjen gave the example of one of his patients, a 40-year-old woman who came to him complaining of a headache on one side of her head and of migraine. "Migraine is more common among those in the age bracket of 20-25 years, so we sent her for some tests. Her MRI scan revealed a clot in the brain," he said.
The advice, therefore?
Try to lead a stress-free life, eat and sleep well and, when in pain, go to the doctor instead of frequently popping painkillers.