If you're seeing a doctor about headaches, here are five questions you may want to ask.
How much medication can I take?
If you suffer headaches frequently, medication overuse can be a big problem. If your body becomes accustomed to the medicine, you can experience rebound headaches when it wears off. In addition, some of the more powerful painkillers used for migraines and cluster headaches carry a risk of addiction. The limits on how much medication you can use vary between classes of drugs, so ask your doctor about your specific prescription.
What if my medication doesn't work?
Your prescribed medication should offer prompt relief of headache symptoms. If it does not, depending on the medication, you may be able to try another dose. Or your doctor may prescribe a backup medication. If your medication fails to work frequently, you may need to change to a different one.
Could some other disease be causing my headaches?
Primary headaches are caused by a problem directly related to the head. Secondary headaches are a symptom of another disorder. A large range of medical problems can cause headaches—everything from stroke, brain aneurysm, and meningitis to influenza, glaucoma, or an alcohol hangover. If your headache is being caused by an underlying disease, it's important to identify and treat it.
Are there any alternative treatments that might help?
Accupuncture, massage, and biofeedback have all been found effective in the treatment of headache pain. Supplements of feverfew, butterbur, coenzyme Q10, riboflavin, and magnesium have also been found to reduce the severity and/or frequency of migraines. When it comes to alternative treatments, many reports of success are often anecdotal and herbal treatments can have significant side effects. Let your doctor know if you are trying alternative pharmacology for a headache; there is always a possibility it is contributing to, rather than improving, your headache symptoms.
What should make me go to the emergency room?
If you suffer from frequent headaches, it can be difficult to distinguish between a "normal" headache and one that might indicate a life-threatening situation such as an aneurysm or stroke. There are subtle differences in the type and location of pain you should be aware of. Ask your doctor about symptoms that require emergency care.