The Temples of Doom
By Anna Sachse
Anyone who has had a bad headache knows that they can sure be a real headache when it comes to comfort, productivity and mood. I had never experienced a true migraine when, in 1998, I first saw the movie Pi, Darren Aronofsky’s celebrated indie flick about a genius mathematician who goes to extreme levels to stop the misery incurred by his chronic migraines. *Pi Spoiler Alert*—in the end, he takes a power drill to his temple. When I finally got my first migraine (instigated by overtraining for a marathon and not stretching), I completely understood the inclination. If I wasn’t crying into my pillow in the dark, I was imagining digging my brain out of my head through with a serrated soupspoon. Instead I took two Excedrin and slept for 24 hours.
According to the National Headache Foundation (NHF), an estimated 29.5 million Americans suffer from migraines (you can find out if this includes you at www.headaches.org, although I am guessing you already know if your head periodically hurts like a son-of-a-bitch). But first, not all headaches are that severe.
The good folks in the Health Education Department at Brown University say that your average headache is pretty common, generally not serious and can be caused by a variety of triggers, including illness, poor diet, drugs, tension and more. Ordinary illnesses for which headaches are symptomatic include viral infections, strep throat, allergies, fever, sinus infections and urinary tract infections. Poor diet, including skipping meals or participating in fad diets, often causes headaches, as does not getting enough fluids, especially on hot days or with increased exercise. When it comes to drugs, any of us who’ve had a beer or five too many know that alcohol can cause headaches, as can marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, painkillers and diet pills. Tension headaches, which often feel like a tight band around your head, can develop due to stress, pressure, anxiety or depression, and are thus the most common form of headache. Headachescan also be triggered by sleep problems, medication (such as birth control pills, or tetracycline for acne), caffeine, certain foods (chocolate, processed meats, aged cheese, MSG, red wine, dairy products) and dental or eye problems.
Most of these headaches get better with a little time, proper hydration and sleep, less stress and/or an ibuprofen or two.
But then there are the seriously debilitating migraines. According to the NHF, migraines begin as a dull ache and then develop into a constant throbbing, pulsating pain that you may feel at the temples, as well as the front or back of one or both sides of the head. There is also the added bonus of nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise. Some people (about 15% of sufferers) experience an “aura” before an attack. An aura is a physical manifestation of neurological symptoms, such as: seeing wavy or jagged lines, dots, or flashing lights; experiencing tunnel vision or blind spots in one or both eyes; visual or auditory hallucinations; disruptions in smell (strange odors), taste or touch; numbness, a “pins and needles” sensation or difficulty in recalling or speaking the correct word. These neurological events can last up to an hour, but will fade as the headache begins. The headaches themselves can last four to 72 hours and basically render a person immobile. Believed to be caused by chemical reactions in the brain (a vague assertion which highlights the fact that they still don’t know exactly how to stop them in chronic sufferers), treatment for migraine may include mild over-the-counter or hardcore prescription medications (narcotics and barbiturates), vitamins, herbs, biofeedback and lifestyle shifts in sleep, relaxation, exercise and dietary habits.
If you have a problem with migraines, see a doctor and research alternative therapies. The NHF also offers an email Pen Pal program for headache sufferers, conducts surveys, finds new clinical trials and organizes support groups and poetry and art/headache-related contests. Now you can use that power drill to make a sculpture of your headache instead of making your head into a sculpture.