Talking About Headaches

By John F. Lauerman / November / December 2000
October 24th, 2007
Migraine headaches are like annoying houseguests who stay far too long and keep coming back. Sufferers usually aren’t interested in reasoning with them; they just want them to go away. Now a Brown researcher has shown that group behavioral techniques can help stop recurrent, painful headaches from making return visits and can reduce the intensity and duration of such visits when they do occur.

At the June meeting of the American Headache Society, Justin Nash, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, presented the results of a study of thirty-eight patients with severe migraine histories. During a ten-week course of behavioral treatment, their average number of days with a headache fell from 21.3 to 12.9. In addition, the migraines’ average duration was cut from 11.1 hours to 8, the measure of headache severity fell from 6.8 to 5.7, and the number of headache-free days per month more than doubled.

In group therapy, Nash explains, patients learned how to avoid such headache triggers as skipped meals, disrupted sleep, and the overuse of painkillers. They also discussed how foods such as chocolate, nuts, caffeinated beverages, aged cheeses, and alcoholic drinks (wine in particular) can set off headaches. Patients also practiced relaxation techniques to help reduce the muscle tension that can provoke and contribute to migraine pain.

Just as important, Nash adds, was the sense of social support the sessions generated. “Pain syndromes like headaches can be very isolating,” he says. “It’s helpful for patients to look across the table and see someone who’s suffering in a similar way.

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
November / December 2000