Neurology specialist offers headache treatment
The Charleston Headache and Neuroscience Center is celebrating its grand opening this month in honor of headache awareness month.
Dr. Carol Foster, a headache specialist, has most recently worked with Charleston Area Medical Center practicing general neurology. But within days, she hopes to open her private practice as one of only a handful of headache specialist centers in the state.
"Migraine, cluster and other headache problems are diseases caused by a very complicated combination of chemical and electrical problems in the brain," Foster said.
"While researchers haven't yet determined the exact explanation behind these neurological problems, we do know that it is not caused by a 'bad' marriage, 'bad' job or 'bad' sinuses. It's an inherited disease."
Foster said while many people shrug off headaches as a common part of life, those who are experiencing more than four headaches a month or episodes lasting for hours at a time should see a specialist.
"You can take medication to stop an individual headache, but unless you change your lifestyle to avoid situations that excite brain cells and deplete serotonin, you are only treating the symptom," Foster said.
"To avoid headaches, you must treat the disease, not the symptom. Treating only the headaches is like putting a small Band-Aid on a gaping head wound. The wound must be cleansed and sutured before the bandage is applied."
Foster said treatment for headaches is straightforward and serotonin-based medicine is often needed. People prone to popping an Advil to ease the pain may just be making matters worse.
"Many migraine sufferers find themselves trapped in the repetitive cycle of using abortive treatments - taking a pill at or after the onset of the attack," Foster said.
"This type of pain management makes patients more susceptible to more frequent and painful episodes and the danger of narcotic addiction - a severe problem in our area.
"There are many alternative treatment methods including biofeedback, prayer or meditation, yoga, and the most important - lifestyle changes in diet and exercise."
Foster said 52 percent of people go undiagnosed with headaches because everyone assumes they are normal. But 18 percent of women and 7 percent of men need help.
About 29.5 million people in the United States suffer from migraine, she said.
Migraines often begin as a dull ache and develop into a constant throbbing and pulsating pain that can be felt at the temples, as well as the front or back of one or both sides of the head.
The pain is usually accompanied by a combination of nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise. About 15 percent of migraine sufferers experience an aura - visual distortions - before an attack. Other symptoms can include slurred speech or difficulty expressing thoughts, she said.
Foster said headaches are caused by a genetic disorder, but the triggers can be anything that activates adrenaline. That could be low blood sugar or estrogen levels, or changes in pressure.
"Acetaminophen can help the pain, but it can trigger another headache - a rebound headache," she said.
The Charleston Headache and Neuroscience Center is accepting new patients and taking direct referrals.