Dr. Megan Donnelly knows headaches inside and out.
She’s a women’s neurologist and board-certified headache specialist at Novant Health Neurology and Headache - South Park in Charlotte. Like many of her patients, she’s also a longtime migraine sufferer.
"I know how greatly it can affect somebody and their quality of life," she said. "I think it gives me greater empathy into what my patients are experiencing."
Of more than 100 types of headaches, the one that most often drives pain-wracked patients to her clinic in search of relief is a migraine. And more often than not, those patients are female. Migraines affect three times as many women as men.
We asked Donnelly why — and what women can do to cope.
What are the main types of headache? There are primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headaches are, for example, tension headaches, cluster headaches and migraine. Secondary headaches are caused by something ominous such as tumors, strokes, bleeds and aneurysms.My first job is to make sure we’re not missing a secondary headache, which starts with obtaining a thorough history, neurological examination and sometimes, if warranted, imaging.
What are the symptoms of primary headaches? Sixty percent of the population has had tension headaches. It is the most common kind of headache, but it is mild and doesn’t usually bring patients to the doctor. It causes dull, whole-head or band-like pressure that is mild to moderate in intensity.Cluster headaches mainly affect middle-aged men who smoke. It causes stabbing pain around the eye and temple on one side, sometimes accompanied by agitation — and registers 10 out of 10 on a pain scale. Fortunately, they’re rare.
The No. 1 reason people go to a headache clinic is migraine — 20% of the population suffers from migraine. These headaches are moderate to severe, last four to 72 hours and are characterized by throbbing on one side, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea with or without vomiting — or all of the above. Before the headache begins, some people experience visual disturbances, temporary loss of sight and numbness or tingling — known as an aura.