Putting pain in the past - Sylvia Lucas, founder and director of the Headache Clinic, sits in her office located in the UW Medical Center. Photo by Joshua Bessex
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified severe, chronic migraines as one of the most disabling conditions known to medicine — even among diseases like dementia and quadriplegia. The various types of headache disorders are all treated differently, which is where the UW Medical Center’s Headache Clinic comes in.
Since its opening in 2004, the clinic has helped countless people gain control over their headache symptoms. The staff works on a very personal basis with each patient, getting to know them, their headaches, and the triggers that affect headache onset.
One of the challenges facing the clinic is time. Not only is there a five-month wait for scheduled appointments, but getting enough face-to-face interaction with the patient in such a fast-paced world and environment can be difficult. Most doctors give 30 minutes to each patient, but the Headache Clinic gives each patient a full hour so doctors can fully understand the patient’s issues and work out a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Headache diaries also help doctors understand triggers and frequency or patterns of headaches.
To Sylvia Lucas, the founder and director of the Headache Clinic, one of the best things to do is get diagnoses and begin treatments as soon as possible.
“Skipping meals, lack of sleep, [and] caffeine can all trigger migraines,” Lucas said. She noted that all of those things are activities many students do in their hustle and bustle.
Many headache sufferers take many over-the-counter drugs before they seek a diagnosis, and Lucas said up to 23 million migraine sufferers are currently undiagnosed.
Women get migraines more often than men by a ratio of 3-to-1, mainly due to hormonal changes. Many women who have pre-existing migraines can experience changes in their headaches when they start using birth control, too.
Migraines are not the only headaches the clinic will diagnose. Cluster headaches occur mostly in men and produce unilateral severe pain that lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to three or more hours and can reoccur often. Another kind of headache common to migraine sufferers is known as the ice-pick headache, which feels much like it sounds and lasts less than two minutes, making it hard to treat.
Migraines and other headaches are treatable. One success story of the Headache Clinic sits at the front desk and speaks with many of the incoming patients. Demetra Tann was a sufferer of severe headaches with some of the worst symptoms. Since she began meeting with Lucas for her headaches, she has seen immense improvement and now has about one migraine every five months.
Tann said patients have to be willing and able to keep an open mind to new methods for curing their headaches — including lifestyle changes such as decreased caffeine consumption or increased water consumption — and not just medications. She said patients also need to be compliant; the Headache Clinic wouldn’t give treatment options unless they thought they would work.
There are valuable resources at the UW, but Lucas wishes she not only had more staff, but also more urgent-care abilities. Migraines are not necessarily experienced between the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. clinic hours, and getting a migraine after closing can mean spending lots of time waiting at the emergency room.
The headache clinic keeps its doors open for new patients who are suffering from headaches.
“What I wanted [people] to know is that we’re here,” Lucas said.
Reach reporter Deanna Isaacs at email@example.com. Twitter: @DeeLiteraryOne
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