Headaches kept father from spending time with his son

Mayo Clinic experts offer advice to easing the pain


Headaches are very common. The World Health Organization reports up to three-fourths of all people suffered some sort of headache within the last year.

For years, James Masanz's headaches were a 24-7 event.  

"I was having two migraines a week and having headaches nearly daily," he said.

The pain impacted his work and family life.  Masanz often wouldn't have the energy to play with his son, Will. 

"I would come home from work and just go to sleep," he said.

The headaches hurt, but the migraines were worse. 

"As if someone was poking something in my left eye." Masanz explained.

Frustrated, he went to the Mayo Clinic.

"The two most common types of headaches are tension headaches and migraine headaches," explained Robert Sheeler, M.D., with Mayo Clinic Family Medicine.

Sheeler says tension headaches tend to be milder and last from a few hours to several days. Migraines are often more intense. 

"Migraine is what we call a channelopathy," explained Sheeler. "There are excitatory neurotransmitter channels in the brain that are overactive and so migraine brain is sort of like a Ferrari. It's high performance but high maintenance and people with migraine have a lower threshold to trigger off a cascade of things that can end up with a host of symptoms, the last of which is a headache."

Treatment can be tricky. Ssheeler says first he looks for the correct diagnosis. Is it tension headache or migraine?

Then, he said, "You find out how it's affecting the patient's life and how frequent it is."

That information helps determine the type of medication that may work best. Treatments range from over the counter Analgesics such as Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen to migraine specific prescription medications to antidepressants to mind/body techniques such as Tai Chi, meditation or yoga.

Sheeler says the key is to treat symptoms early and avoid things that may trigger headaches.  

Medication and mind/body techniques have helped Masanz gain control of his headaches. 

"It's probably just one plain headache a week," he said.

And now, instead of battling pain, he's able to spend the afternoon enjoying time with his son, Will.  And for that, he says he's grateful.

Again, Sheeler says the two most common types of headaches are tension headaches and migraines, and to treat them properly, it's often important to distinguish which one you're dealing with.

He says it's also important to make sure the headache is not the result of an underlying problem such as an aneurysm, tumor or other serious disease. If you have significant headaches, it's key to see your health care provider and to get a detailed neurologic evaluation.

Headaches are often not cured, but with proper treatment, patients may greatly reduce the frequency and severity of their headaches and get back into life.

For more information on managing headaches , you can go to Mayo Clinic's website at mayoclinic.org or you can call the Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville at 904-953-2272.