The WVU Headache Center

neurology-headacheFor those who are among the 40 million Americans who suffer from chronic or severe headaches, the WVU Headache Center provides personalized, empathetic care and a commitment to improving quality of life.

The WVU Headache Center is under the direction of David Watson, MD, the only headache specialist in the state certified by the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties.

Physicians in the Headache Center work closely with specialists in neurosurgery, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, psychiatry, and radiology to help prevent headaches through medication, changes in behavior and nutrition, and other approaches. In addition, our doctors provide patients the means to deal with acute headaches, such as migraines, so future occurrences can be relieved quickly.

Twenty-five percent of women ages 25 to 55 suffer from migraines, and women outnumber men in terms of migraines by a ratio of three-to-one. In addition, 3 to 4 percent of people have chronic daily headaches.

Causes and Treatments

While there are many types and possible causes, the headaches treated by our specialists include:

  • Acute and chronic head pain
  • Chronic daily headaches
  • Cluster headaches
  • Intractable headaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • Tension headaches

Read more about what causes headaches.

Among the various types of treatments provided at the WVU Headache Center are:

  • Medication
  • Botox
  • Nerve blocks
  • Trigger-point injections
  • Naturopathic treatments such as butterbur, coenzyme Q10, and magnesium

WVU Medicine Health Report: Botox for Migraines

Self-help tips for headaches

When scans such as MRI or other tests are appropriate, our specialists have access to some of the world’s most advanced technology to assist with diagnosis and treatment planning.

The WVU Headache Center welcomes patients age 18 and older. Referrals from a physician are required.

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Ask The Experts

Q. What causes headaches?

A. Got a headache? Between the current financial crisis, the onset of flu season and the hectic pace of modern life, it’s no wonder.

Headaches afflict almost everyone at some time or another. They may occur when you’re sick, when you’re stressed about an exam or meeting, when you’re taking medication, or for a variety of other reasons.

Fortunately for most people, headaches are more of a nuisance than a real problem. For some sufferers, though, headaches become more frequent, more severe and more troublesome.

Migraines cause pain, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Activity makes them even worse. Cluster headaches cause excruciating pain, red watering eyes, and disruptions in sleep. Even garden-variety tension-type headaches can become problematic when they occur frequently.

But many sufferers can find relief through lifestyle changes and might be able to avoid taking significant amounts of medication to stop the pain.

Ingredients in your food can get your head pounding, including caffeine, monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates and alcohol. If you suffer from frequent headaches, you should reduce caffeine, which can be a pain trigger or cause withdrawal headaches. Caffeine also disrupts sleep, which can make your headaches worse. Even though many over-the-counter headache medicines contain caffeine, these are only useful for people with infrequent headaches. Otherwise, these medications only add to the problem.

MSG is a flavor enhancer added to many processed foods and snacks, such as potato chips. MSG can activate pain centers in the brain and trigger headaches.

Nitrates are added to processed meats as a preservative, but they also act to dilate blood vessels, which can trigger headaches in people who are susceptible. Even various alcoholic beverages are known to cause headaches. If you drink red wine for the health benefits but find that your head hurts after a glass, try grape juice instead.

Poor sleep can cause increased headaches or make you more sensitive to other triggers. Doctors often recommend that headache sufferers:

  • Set regular wake-up and bed times.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • Don’t watch television or do work in bed.
  • Stay away from the computer or television if you wake during the night.
  • Get regular cardiovascular exercise, but not within two hours of going to bed.

If stress and anxiety are a cause of sleep difficulty, you can try relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation or biofeedback.

One of the most common causes of increasing headaches is actually taking too much medication for headaches. Various over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®), ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin®), and caffeine-containing medications (Excedrin®) are some to watch out for. Consult with your doctor before you stop taking any medicine.

Prescription medications can also cause increasing headaches when used frequently, such as opiate/narcotic pain relievers, butalbital, and even triptans. The general rule is that medications for headaches should not be used more than 2 days per week on average.

If you find that you need pain relievers more often than this, you may have developed medication overuse headaches, also known as Rebound Headaches. These often improve over time by simply stopping or reducing the frequency of treatment.

Even if you require medicine to manage your headaches, living a healthy “headache lifestyle” is very important and can help make the medications more effective.

Be aware that new headaches, increasing headache frequency or changing patterns of headaches can be a cause for concern, so you should consult a primary care provider or a neurologist even if you are trying to avoid prescription medications.

Medications are only part of the solution when managing headaches and, alone, will be limited in effectiveness. There are many other factors that only you can control. Below are some suggestions of how you can help yourself and help your doctor help you.

  • Unless told otherwise, you should limit the use of any over-the-counter (OTC) medication that you use for headaches. OTC’s can quickly backfire and lead to increased frequency of headaches, even when used only a couple of times per week.
  • You should limit the use of any prescription pain medication, such as opiates (narcotics) or fiorinal/fioricet, for the same reason as above.
  • Getting regular, refreshing sleep is very important. Set a specific bedtime that would allow for 8 to 8 ½ hours of sleep. Do not watch television, listen to the radio, do work, or argue in bed. If your bed partner snores, wear earplugs or sleep in another room. Have the same bedtime on the weekend as you have during the week.
  • Eat a well-balanced and healthy diet. Avoid common food triggers like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and nitrites. These are commonly found in snack foods like potato chips, hot dogs, bacon, and other processed meats. Decrease your intake of red meat and increase chicken or fish. Drink 6 – 8 glasses of water per day.
  • Get regular exercise. A brisk walk for 30 minutes 3 -4 days per week is enough at the beginning. Improving your heart health and improving your blood flow will have beneficial effects on your headaches.
  • Eliminate caffeine from your diet. Caffeine is one of the worst chemicals for anyone with headaches. Even one cup per day can be enough to increase the frequency and severity of your headaches. Be aware that even decaffeinated coffee and tea have some caffeine in them.
  • Find someone with whom you can talk about your headaches and other stresses or concerns. This could be a religious leader, professional counselor, psychologist, or even just a good friend. It is important to be able to talk openly and honestly about what you are going through.
  • Begin a stress reduction program with meditation, prayer, or biofeedback. Many resources for biofeedback and relaxation are available on the internet.
  • Being involved in your regular activities despite the headaches is necessary. Make every effort to go to work, school, or social activities even if you have a headache. You cannot let your headaches control you. You must control them and not allow them to dictate to you how you will live.
  • Avoid natural cures for your headache unless you discuss them with your doctor first. Many products claiming to cure or treat headaches can actually be detrimental to your headaches.

Umer Najib, MD

Assistant Professor, Program Director, Headache Medicine Fellowship Program
View Profile304-598-6127

David Watson, MD

Chair, Director, Headache Center, Associate Professor, Neurology Department
View Profile304-598-6127