From the Archives: Fall 2007 Lupus Now magazine
Holidays = Headaches by Emily Wojcik
The weeks between Halloween and New Year's Eve are exciting and hectic, full of celebrations and extra errands. But if you suffer from headaches, this time of year can also mean more pain. According to a 2006 survey by the National Headache Foundation, 52 percent of respondents experienced an increase in frequency and severity of their headaches during holidays -- bad news for people with lupus, for whom headaches are a common symptom.
Determining whether your headaches are lupus-related can be difficult. Pain might indicate central nervous system involvement, but it might also result from a new treatment, disrupted dietary and sleep patterns, or stress from extra responsibility.
True lupus headaches often resemble "classic" migraines: intense pain that lasts up to three days and is often accompanied by visual distortion. Lupus headaches usually respond well to over-the-counter medications, but any treatment you're considering should be discussed with your doctor.
But what if your headache really is just a pain in the head? "Regular" tension headaches are common among people with lupus and get worse during times of physical stress, exhaustion, depression, or anxiety -- in other words, especially between November and January.
Although fatigue and muscle tension are often-unavoidable symptoms of lupus, you can lessen the severity and frequency of your headaches. Because over-the-counter drugs can cause "rebound" headaches and might interact with your current medications, think prevention rather than medication. The National Institutes of Health recommends keeping a "headache diary."
When you have a headache, jot down the time of day, what you ate and drank, how long you slept the night before, and any recent stress you've experienced. These notes can identify whether your headaches follow a pattern, and you may be able to modify those behaviors accordingly.
Meanwhile, try to stay moderate. 'Tis the season for overindulgence, but excess -- an extra glass of champagne, thirds on Grandma's stuffing -- is a guaranteed shortcut to a headache. (Also, never take acetaminophen after drinking alcohol, as it increases your risk of liver failure.) Overexposure to smoke- or perfume-filled rooms -- a frequent party hazard -- also can exacerbate pain. Practice restraint; your head will thank you.
As for stress and tension, nip them in the bud by making exercise a priority. No time to hit the gym? Three 10-minute periods of activity per day can mean the difference between pain and productivity. Make this time of year work for you: Recruit a visiting relative for a walk, or do some light stretching while you’re waiting for the pies to cool.
Finally, put yourself first. Relief might just be a matter of finding some peace and quiet. Relaxation exercises such as yoga or meditation can help, or try simply resting with your eyes closed for a brief time. A shoulder massage or heating pad can relieve muscle tension, but use caution if your skin is sensitive. Remember that your health is your first priority. After all, if you're happy and bright, these special times of the year will be, too.