Getting through the day is always a challenge. The daily rigors of work, family and recreation may seem like enough to cause a splitting headache, but genetics can play a big role, too. For women, however, headaches are a constant concern and should be monitored and treated closely to help those affected lead normal lives.
As we all know, headaches are a fairly common disorder of the nervous system. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 47 percent of the adult population experienced a headache at least once within the last year. Women appear especially susceptible to headaches in general. A recent study found that 26 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 44 can expect to experience a migraine or severe headache during any three-month period. Some estimates have found that women have three times as many headaches as men do. The fact that women experience headaches at an alarming clip is not entirely surprising. Women's genetics have a lot to do with their tendency to experience these debilitating conditions. Hormones play a significant role as can a woman's menstrual cycle and brain chemistry.
Recent research analyzed through the Women's Health Study found that depression is a threatening byproduct of migraine headaches in women. The study analyzed over 36,000 women who had no reported incidence of depression when the study started. When the study ended, it found women who reported having migraines have a 40 percent greater chance of developing depression versus women who do not have a chronic history of headaches. Depression, left untreated, can lead to drug or alcohol addiction, cause strain on relationships, negatively affect our mood and thoughts, lead to sleep and eating disorders and impact our work habits.
Sudden onset of severe headaches, daily headaches associated with the body's position or headaches that change in their characteristics are all red flags to seek immediate medical care. Headaches associated with fever and neck rigidity also require immediate evaluation as they could indicate possible meningitis. Consult with your physician or see a specialist if headaches negatively affect your health or lifestyle.
Dr. Frasat Chaudhry specializes in neurology at The Brain and Spine Center at St. Luke's Hospital.
This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 9, 2014.