woman suffering from headaches

When should you see a specialist for your headaches?

For many people, headaches are more than an occasional inconvenience. If you suffer from frequent or severe headaches, the problem can seriously harm your quality of life and interfere with your ability to function.

Frequent tension headaches, brutal migraines or excruciating cluster headaches can leave sufferers feeling helpless against the pain (learn to tell the difference HERE). While headache disorders cannot be cured, they can be managed effectively.

If you suffer from regular headaches, severe headaches or both, a specialist can help you manage the issue by finding the best preventive treatment to reduce the frequency and identifying the treatment that works best for you when a headache occurs. That treatment could include physical therapy.

But how do you know if you need to see a specialist?

Frequency and intensity

As a general rule, if you have a headache requiring a pain reliever more than five days per month, it’s a good idea to see either your primary care physician or a specialist for evaluation and treatment. That’s according to Hrachya Nersesyan, MD, a neurologist and the director of the OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute Headache and Craniofacial Pain Program.

If you have fewer than four per month, you probably don’t need to see a specialist unless they are either severe migraines or cluster headaches that keep you from participating in your daily activities.

“If the headache management plan is simple, the doctor will give some simple directions and you will never need to worry about it again,” Dr. Nersesyan said. “People who have more than 15 headache days a month for more than two months, regardless of the type of headache, most definitely need to see a specialist.”

New and promising treatments for migraine should be available soon, Dr. Nersesyan said. So, if headaches are affecting your quality of life and most current treatments have failed, ask your doctor to see a headache specialist.

General tips for dealing with headaches

Regardless of whether seeking a specialist is right for you, there are several things everyone can do help.

  • Get regular, good quality sleep
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat regularly
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine
  • Engage in regular physical activity
  • Manage your weight

Last Updated: January 13, 2022

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About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and was a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Brain & Spine, General