Headache Working With Your Doctor to Avoid the Emergency Room
Know your headache care team
Everyone with frequent headaches should have a headache care team. The members of that team include:
- Your primary care doctor. If you do not have a primary care doctor, it is important that you get one. This doctor is the first person to call when you have any kind of health problem.
- Some patients also work with a headache care specialist. You may need this kind of help if your headaches do not respond to standard treatment.
Tell your doctor about the problem
If you have frequent headaches and have trouble dealing with the pain, you should make an appointment with your doctor just to discuss your headaches. If you use the visit for other issues, you may not have the time you need to talk about your headaches. Be prepared to give details about your headaches. Your doctor will also want to know what other health problems you may have and any medicines you are taking.
Take notes about your headaches
To help your doctor diagnose and treat your headaches, you need to know as much as possible about them. It is helpful to keep a headache diary or calendar. Be sure to include details about every headache. Include:
- Date and time of day.
- Before or during the headache, did you see flashing lights or other unusual things of any kind?
- Where in your head was the pain located?
- Did you have other problems (nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, etc.)?
- Did you take anything for the pain? What, how much, and did it help?
- Was your headache brought on by anything in particular, such as stress, smells, travel, or your period?
- Did your headache make you miss work, school, or social activities?
Develop a treatment plan with your doctor
No two patients and their headaches are alike, so all patients need their own treatment plans. The goals of treatment are to have fewer and milder headaches while getting more active and functional.
- Talk to your doctor about your headaches and what you want your treatment plan to do for you.
- Know your headache triggers.
- Know your headache medicines and their effects. Most patients will use a preventive medicine (to reduce the number of headaches) and a medicine to stop a headache when it begins.
- Know how to prevent your headaches using both medicines and non-medicine treatments (relaxation, stress management, others).
- Know when to take your medicine (often at the first sign of a headache).
- Know what to do if your medicine does not work.
- Know what to do if your headache is much worse than or different from usual.
Carry out your treatment plan
- Take your medicine as directed.
- Do not overuse your medicine. Overuse can cause more headaches.
- Do not skip medicine doses.
- Keep your headache diary so you can discuss your treatment with your doctor.
- Keep track of any medicine side effects.
- Avoid headache triggers where possible.
- Reduce stress. Find ways to deal with stress, such as exercise or meditation.
- Eat regular, healthy meals. Get enough sleep.
- Make follow-up appointments with your doctor to talk about progress.
Share your treatment plan
Your treatment plan will be part of your primary care doctor’s medical record. It will be used by other health care providers upon your request. This helps make sure that you get the best and most consistent care if you have problems with your headaches.
Keep a copy of your treatment plan with you. If you need to see a different doctor than your primary care doctor when you are traveling, or if your primary care doctor is unavailable, you should share your treatment plan with that doctor to make sure you get the best care.
Avoid the emergency room (ER) or urgent care center
Your doctor’s office is the first place to go with help for your headaches. If you follow your treatment plan, you should be able to avoid using the ER or urgent care center.
- Keep your medicine with you at all times.
- Do not run out of medicine. Get your prescription filled before you run out.
- If your medicine is not working, call your doctor’s office. Even after hours, there are doctors on call who can help you.
- Talk to your primary doctor about medicine side effects or other problems with your treatment.
- Do not stop taking your medicine without first talking with your doctor.
Other headache resources:
American Council for Headache Education
(609) 845-0322 or 1-800-255-2243http://www.achenet.org/
National Headache Foundation
(312) 388-6399 or 1-800-843-2256
FAX (312) 525-7357http://www.headache.org/
The Spanish version of this Health Facts for You is #6766.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 01/14/2013
Copyright © 01/14/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6473
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