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updated: 10/27/2012 3:16 PM

Headache sufferers learn triggers, remedies in Naperville

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Suburban residents wondering "Why does my head hurt?" "Why does my child's head hurt?" or "Why did my head hurt so much when I was pregnant?" got some answers from health experts Saturday morning in Naperville as the National Headache Foundation offered a free patient education event.

Two Chicago-area headache experts and one from Maryland gave presentations on the triggers, symptoms and treatments of migraines, women's headaches and children's headaches, while a Northbrook lawyer offered advice about how to handle headaches in the workplace.

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The event, called "Why Does My Head Hurt?" followed a similar patient education seminar the National Headache Foundation held in June in Chicago, said Mary Franklin, the organization's director of operations.

"Part of our mission is educating the public and this is one outreach we thought was effective," Franklin said.

About 50 people attended Saturday morning's seminar bringing laptops or notepads to record possible solutions to their head pain problems. Headache sufferers in the audience were among 76 percent of the country's adult women and 57 percent of adult men who have at least one headache each month, said Dr. George Urban, co-director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago.

"A headache is not a disease; a headache is a symptom that indicates something is wrong," Urban said about secondary headaches, which can be caused by a range of factors including eye problems; ear, nose and throat conditions; infections; alcohol use; and brain tumors.

In many cases, Urban said, headaches are triggered when an overactive brain responds too strongly to light, sound, lack of sleep, a skipped meal, weather changes or altitude. Some people's bodies can adjust seamlessly to these changes, but not headache sufferers'.

"That's why they get headaches -- they respond to normal stimuli with abnormal reactions," Urban said.

The stimulus that caused migraines for audience member Kristy Tribble of Naperville was pregnancy. Tribble said she was in bed for 13 weeks recently while pregnant with her son. She asked Dr. Merle Diamond, managing director of the Diamond Headache Clinic, how likely she would be to suffer similarly debilitating migraines if she gets pregnant again.

Diamond said science offers no predictor of the likelihood of migraines recurring during a second pregnancy. But she said some drugs are safe for pregnant women and doctors can develop a treatment plan involving medicine, lifestyle changes and relaxation strategies.

"There are certainly options so you don't have to be in bed that are safe for you and the baby," Diamond said.

When head pain becomes intense, patients may be willing to try anything to stop the throbbing, splitting or pressure. But doctors Saturday advised caution.

"People do desperate things when they're having a headache," Diamond said. "Whatever it is, you want it to be reversible."

Aside from seeking the help of a doctor, Franklin said the National Headache Foundation can offer advice through its website, headaches.org, or its hotline, (888) 643-5552.

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