Migraines increasing during pandemic due to stress, Upstate doctors say

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Neurologist Dr. Kathleen Woschkolup says she often hears people claim they are just experiencing a “minor sinus headache” when really, they’re having migraines.

According to a 2018 report by the CDC, women were nearly twice as likely as men to have had a severe headache or migraine in a 3-month period of time. 

“The term ‘sinus headache’ first came from an advertisement. If you have to take something to get rid of your headache or you have to stop what you’re doing and go lay down in a dark room somewhere, then chances are you’re having more than just one rare occurrence and that they are migraines,” Dr. Woschkolup said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a migraine can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head. It’s often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound and can last for hours to days, sometimes with pain so severe that it interferes with your daily activities.

Dr. Woschkolup said it’s not just an adult issue, and that often migraines in children are ignored, which can have long-lasting side consequences.

“Children as young as elementary school have migraines and a lot of times, it’s inherited. A lot of children may not complain of a headache, but have a lot of gastro-intestinal symptoms and stomach aches, and as they get older they develop the actual migraine,” she said. “What we see long term is they have more anxiety and depression and they have a lot more issues with chronic head issues into adulthood and they’re less trusting of the medical community as well.”

For adults, she said ignoring migraines can also lead to more serious problems.

“Untreated migraines can lead to chronic migraines to where you’re having multiple migraines even per week,” she warned.

Dr. Woschkolup said she believes stress from the pandemic is now causing a spike in migraines among her patients.

“The lights from the computer and the eye strain – that’s also contributing,” she said.

To find and eliminate what’s triggering migraines, she recommended journaling what you ate or did before each migraine began.

These triggers can include lack of sleep, your diet, dehydration, stress, and dips in estrogen caused by menstrual cycles for women, she said.

Botox is an FDA-approved treatment she sometimes prescribes.

“There is significant improvement and what’s nice is it lasts for 12 weeks,” she explained.

However, if you are having migraines multiple times a month, she stressed the need to s see a doctor for a treatment plan rather than relying on over the counter medications.

“We avoid narcotics. We avoid taking non-steroidal inflammatory drugs like Advil or Alleve, on a regular scheduled basis because those medications can end up causing what we call analgesic overuse headaches or what we call a rebound affect,” she said. “So, in other words, as it starts to wear off your system you’re getting another headache.”

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