Pain strikes 1 in 10

The NPS wants aged care staff and medical professionals to take more time to investigate the root cause of an older person’s headache pain, given the recent results of a survey which found that 1/10 Aussies have a headache once a week.

  • A new Newspoll survey has shown that headache pain affects one in 10 Australians every week.
  • NPS clinical advisor, Dr Philippa Binns, wants aged care staff and medical professionals to take more time to find out the root cause of an older person’s headache.
  • NPS has used National Pain Week 2012 to raise the awareness of headache pain and the importance of identifying whether the headache is nothing or maybe something more sinister than ‘just a headache’.

By Yasmin Noone

Aged care staff and medical professionals have been cautioned against discounting older people’s headache complaints as ‘just another headache’ as the pain could well be symptomatic of a serious health concern.

According to recent Newspoll survey results, released during National Pain Week 2012 last week, headache pain affects around one in 10 Australians every week.

The 1200-respondent strong survey found that one in three people reported suffering from headaches at least once a month; and one in 10 experienced them once a week or more often.

National Prescribing Service (NPS) clinical advisor and medical practitioner, Dr Philippa Binns, said the survey statistics highlights that the common health complaint strikes every kind of person – especially those who are older, those on medication for other types of pain and those recovering from surgery or injury.

“Headaches are very common no matter what age we are,” Dr Binns said.

“The pain might be a stress or tension headache, or a migraine. Either way, it is important, especially for the elderly, that health professionals fly the red flag and be aware of other underlying causes of headaches.

“A new headache in someone over the age of 50 should make a health professional stop and think about what’s going on…as that person might have a serious underlying condition that needs addressing.”

For example, Dr Binns said, the older person’s headache could be a symptom of a subdural hemorrhage.

“Medication overuse can cause a headache or, if an older person is taking regular medicines for headaches frequently and then they stop the medication, they might get a rebound headache.”

Headache pain in the elderly could also be a result of pain elsewhere, either due to injury or surgery.

“It’s also important to be aware of medications that relieve pain or headaches and of their side effects.

“Everything should always be assessed on its merits.”
Dr Binns stressed that staff should not just brush pain off as “just another headache”.

“If people are showing a change in their behaviour or expressing their concern about pain, then taking the time to just try and get to the bottom of what’s going on can be invaluable.

“Investing a bit of time, not a lot of time, to look at and understanding a person’s perspective means you might be able to detect a serious condition that will be able to be treated and make the person well again.”

As per the Newspoll survey results, only around 50 per cent of those who report to having regular headaches (one or more a week) see a doctor about the issue. But, only one in three have kept a record of their symptoms or other information about their headaches.

“Your doctor can best identify your headache type and how to treat you if they have a complete picture of your headache experience.

“This means they will ask questions about your headaches, when they occur, and what treatments work for you— and this is where a headache diary can help.  If you are suffering from regular headaches, there may be certain environmental or lifestyle factors which are triggering their onset.

“For these people, keeping a headache diary can help identify these triggers and ultimately help them avoid them.”
A headache diary allows you to record important details about your headaches, such as symptoms, frequency and other factors which may be contributing to their onset. It also helps you and your doctor to assess how successful any treatments are.

“This can include things like avoiding triggers, reducing stress and using pain relief medicines appropriately,” says Dr Binns.

Over-the-counter pain medicines were the overwhelmingly popular choice with 81 per cent of headache sufferers reporting using one for their last headache. Massage (11 per cent) and ice packs (nine per cent) were other treatment options reported.

Access the NPS online headache diary here. 

Tags: headache, migraine, national-pain-week, newspoll, nps, pain,

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