Thursday, December 28, 2006


Holidays can bring headaches

During the holiday season, headaches become a common problem and interfere with our enjoyment of winter festivities.

Over time, the human body develops various rhythms. These rhythms are based on essential functions such as eating, sleeping and stress levels. Any time these rhythms are upset, it is natural for the body to rebel. This rebellion can take the form of chest pain, upset stomach, or a rash. In migraine sufferers, a severe headache may ensue.

Migraines are defined as one-sided, throbbing headaches frequently accompanied by nausea and exacerbated by bright lights and loud sounds. Some migraines have warning symptoms such as visual changes or tingling. These premonitions are known as auras and often last 15-30 minutes.
Unfortunately, without intervention these headache episodes can go on for hours or even days.

Despite effective medical treatment with triptan medications (Relpax, Imitrex), beta-blockers (Inderal, Atenolol), antidepressants and anticonvulsants, the best treatment for migraines is prevention. By exercising regularly and keeping physiologic rhythms stable, headaches can often be avoided or their severity minimized.

The holidays present a special challenge to our usual routine. Travel, stress, overeating and drinking are all factors that precipitate headaches. Some tips for helping to navigate a more pleasurable holiday season include:

1. Sleep. Attempt to maintain a regular sleep pattern. Too much sleep is as harmful as too little.
2. Diet. We all like to try new foods at holiday time. Migraine sufferers should avoid spicy foods, sharp cheeses and processed meats. Try to drink more water than usual since dehydration can also lead to headaches.
3. Alcohol. Do without alcohol, especially red wines, scotch and bourbon.
4. Stress. Holidays can be very stressful which only serves to underscore any medical condition. Be especially vigilant of potentially tense situations and avoid them.

Sometimes migraine headaches cannot be prevented and medical intervention is necessary. Following some simple rules like those listed above can lead to both happy and healthy holidays.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, MMM is a neurologist in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich and a member of the Backus Hospital Medical Staff. He is also an Associate Clinical Professor of Neurology at UCONN. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Alessi and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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