There is such a frequent and familiar sound in my house that I know it as if I know the click of a key on the front door. It’s the low squeak of the medicine cabinet opening, followed by the rattle of a large pill bottle. A few times a week, at least one person in my house has a headache. Do you have a headache right now, even though you read these words? Chances are good that you do.
In April, a narrative review by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and published in The Journal of Headache and Pain revealed that every day “15.8% of the world’s population had a headache, and almost half of ‘these people report a migraine (7). The Australian standard states forcefully: “This means that 1.1 billion people have headaches today.” And as the study’s lead author, Lars Jacob Stovner, said in a press release, “the prevalence of headache disorders remains high worldwide and the burden of different types can affect many.”
Over the years, I had come to mind my life so much that I rarely thought about it. I’m hungry, I’m eating. I’m tired, I’m resting. My head hurts, I take Excedrin. That’s how the days go, right? But on a recent, too-sunny afternoon, I found myself among 7% of people around the world who suffer from migraines every day. When I closed my eyes and cried silently at the aperitif at a local Target, I remembered that just because a condition is common, this does not make it inevitable or easy to manage.
More than half of us have had headaches in the past year, and as Northwestern Medicine reports, they are “more common, more enduring, and more common in women.” We are also more likely to suffer from migraines. Not only does COVID-19 send flying acetaminophen off the shelves, they are our bosses.
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But are headaches on the rise, or do we just feel that way all the time under our tense faces? The authors of the Norwegian study, which reviewed the results of 357 publications, are cautious in drawing conclusions. They note that while “headache disorders continue to be highly prevalent worldwide” and that “they have found an apparent increase in migraine prevalence”, there is “great variation in the results of migraine.” study “. Populations with a greater awareness of migraine disorders, for example, reported, unsurprisingly, a higher prevalence of these.
What seems indisputable, however, is that we are creating many conditions that lead us to headaches everywhere. We usually spend more than twelve hours a day on our devices, looking at the text and inhaling blue light. We eat a lot of caffeine: 93% of us consume it at least once, and among those who are allowed to do it, 25% drink it three or more times a day.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons we sleep less. A 2019 Ball State University study found that 35.6% of respondents said they slept less than seven hours a night, and police officers and health workers reported escaping five or six. hours. These figures have not improved in the last two years: a HealthDay poll earlier this year found that a third of respondents said they were more tired now than at the start of the pandemic. And 28.5% said they slept less.
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This brings us to the pandemic in the living room. A 2021 study by the American Psychological Association found that nearly half of respondents said they were more stressed now than in previous years. Stress is a headache in itself, but then you can increase the problem by incorporating all the stress that comes with it. As reported by NPR, “More than 40% [of respondents] they said they had gained weight during the pandemic. Nearly a quarter said they drink more. Nearly two-thirds sleep too much or too little. ”
Then there is COVID-19 itself. In January, the National Institutes of Health called for “increased research into the underlying causes of Long Covid and possible ways to treat its symptoms,” including neurological ones such as headaches. “My head felt like it would explode,” one of those patients told the CBC in April, “and no medication was enough to improve it.”
Is it weird that your head is splitting? I would be surprised if it weren’t so. But maybe like me, you’ve gotten so used to the pain that you’ve normalized it. We don’t. My recent migraine was a reminder that I shouldn’t be so bad before I take my well-being seriously, and that preventing pain is far less intrusive than a neurological crisis that kills over the weekend.
Hormones, illnesses, vision problems, and the legitimate psychological burden of living this moment in history cannot always be controlled. Of course, persistent, intense, or otherwise worrying headaches should be evaluated by a physician. But there are some pretty simple steps we can take to reduce the risk of the typical headaches that so many of us suffer from, many of whom we probably already know.
As the Mayo Clinic advises, get enough sleep. Monitor your caffeine consumption. Exercise and maintain a regular feeding schedule. It works on reducing stress. These are the basics, but there are others. Cultivate awareness of your own individual triggers. Do certain foods seem to stand out to you? Are bright or flashing lights a problem? (This was the main culprit in my last migraine.) But here’s the least-anticipated headache-blocking trick of all: reconsider how many headache medications you’re taking.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the use of headache medications, including over-the-counter products such as acetaminophen and prescription migraine medications, “more than a couple of days a week” can cause headaches. rebound. Harvard Health describes the problem as a “vicious cycle,” which I’ve fallen prey to, when “the same medications that initially relieve headaches can trigger back headaches if used too often.”
Concerns about the relationship between overuse and increased pain were also headlines this week when a McGill University study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine warned that “clinical data showed that use of anti – inflammatory drugs has been associated with an increased risk of persistent pain, suggesting that anti – inflammatory treatments may have a negative effect on the duration of pain. Although the study focused on back pain, the implications for other forms of pain have further investigation.
Lately I’ve been doing my best to avoid another four-alarm migraine soon. I’m also working on simple day-to-day adjustments to avoid the usual headaches I thought I should be living with, turning off my laptop a little earlier in the evening and going to bed earlier. But the biggest change is that I’m trying to open the first-aid kit less often now, in the hope that fewer rattles in the Excedrin bottle may, in some way, lead to fewer occasions when I feel like getting there.
Learn more about pain and how to treat it: