Posts

Got Chronic Pain? Don’t Stress About It

Chronic pain and stress are often intertwined. When you experience persistent discomfort, it’s natural to feel stressed about it. Unfortunately, this stress often exacerbates the pain, resulting in a frustrating cycle that can leave you feeling worse both physically and mentally. 

Fortunately, there are ways to break the stress/pain cycle. Here’s what you should know about the relationship between the two. 

How Does Stress Affect the Body?

According to the American Psychological Association, stress affects every system of the body, including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems. One of the most pronounced ways it can cause pain is through the tension it triggers in the body. Tensing of the muscles is the body’s natural response to stressors— a protective measure to guard against injury and pain. Under persistent stress, however, this continual muscle tension can lead to issues like tension headaches and musculoskeletal pain.

Stress also impacts the body on a chemical level. The body releases stress hormones that can have a cumulative, damaging effect over the long term. Moreover, research shows that persistent stress creates an altered chemical response that can actually intensify pain. For people with preexisting chronic pain, such as joint pain from arthritis, the cycle may feel impossible to break.

How to Cope With Stress to Control Pain?

It would be easy to fix stress-related pain if stress could simply be avoided altogether. Unfortunately, stressors are often a part of everyday life. While we may not be able to steer clear of them entirely, we can change the way we respond to them.

Finding healthy stress outlets is an important step to managing both your mental health and your chronic pain. While each person will have their own preferred stress management technique, here are a few options to try:

  •       Get some exercise. It may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re in pain, but even a brief walk could provide benefits. For instance, walks can help reduce joint stiffness in people with arthritis while also delivering a mood boost.
  •       Focus on sleep hygiene. If your mind is racing at night due to stress, your body isn’t getting the sleep it needs to repair itself. Promote restful sleep by avoiding electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, as the blue light from devices can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms.
  •       Manage your responsibilities. Chronic stress can come from taking on too much. While not all stressors are avoidable, there may be ways to lighten your workload and feel less overwhelmed. Find out if you can delegate tasks at work or home, and consider turning down social activities if you don’t have the bandwidth for them.
  •       Connect with loved ones. Spending time with friends has been shown to release the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which can provide a mood boost and help you beat stress.
  •       Discover an alternate stress outlet. For some people, going for a drive while listening to music might be an effective way to decompress. For others, quiet activities like yoga, journaling, or meditation may help. Experiment with different methods to find which works for you. 

If you’re facing stress that could be causing or contributing to your pain, talk to your United Physician Group provider. Our compassionate pain management specialists are here to help find relief from all aspects of pain, including the mental toll it can take. Connect with us online or by calling (833) 523-0906. 

What Happens to Your Body While Going Through Grief

When we talk about grief, oftentimes mental and emotional health take center stage. Yet, grief can have profound physical effects, too. Although healing takes time, and it may feel as if there’s nothing you can do to expedite the process, understanding the physical changes that take place as you’re grieving can help you stay in control of your health.

Physical Changes Caused by Grief

Reduced Immunity

According to Harvard Medical School, grief can impact the body at a molecular level. In particular, immune cells appear to be less functional, and inflammatory responses are elevated in grieving individuals. The suspected culprit is the release of stress hormones that accompany grief, which can affect every system in the body. As a result of this weakened immunity, people who are coping with grief may be more susceptible to illness.

Aches & Pains

Stress hormones can also increase physical pain. People in mourning often report feeling physical discomfort, which can manifest as headaches, joint pain, back pain, and stiffness. The bombardment of stress hormones essentially ”stun[s]” the muscles, which is the cause for these uncomfortable sensations. Fortunately, the pain is most often temporary, but any prolonged discomfort should be discussed with a doctor.

Appetite Fluctuation

The emotional toil brought on by grief can result in appetite changes. While some people may find themselves reaching for comfort foods while grieving, others may experience food aversions and a decrease in appetite. “Stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea and other digestive system problems are [also] common companions to grief,” the concerned experts at Knowyourgrief.org confirm. Nausea and an anxious stomach may be common side effects of grief, but should also pass. 

Sleep Issues

Though grief can leave you feeling fatigued, this unfortunately doesn’t mean sleep will come easily. In fact, people who are grieving often find it difficult to sleep, and are more likely to experience middle insomnia, or the inability to get back to sleep after waking in the middle of the night. Oftentimes, these sleep challenges are a direct result of major changes that come with grief, such as immense feelings of loneliness or worries about financial security.

Heart Problems

The intense stress your body undergoes can increase the risk of heart attack. Grief can also lead to a temporary condition that mimics heart disease known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken-heart syndrome. Characterized by chest pain, shortness of breath, and ballooning of the left ventricle, the condition occurs primarily in women, but often resolves itself within a month.

Coping with the Effects of Grief

Grief is a natural response to losing a loved one. When you feel ready, practicing routine self-care by taking walks, journaling, eating nutritious meals, and turning to friends and family for support can help you restore your mind/body balance and start you on the path towards healing, both physically and emotionally.

While grief doesn’t always require professional intervention, it’s a good idea to consider seeking counseling or help from a support group if you’re having trouble getting back into a routine after several months.

If you feel like your health could be suffering as a result of grief or another trauma, turn to United Physician Group. Our healthcare providers are committed to helping patients through every challenge and providing exceptional care through all of life’s stages. Find a doctor online or by calling (833) 523-0906.

United Physician Group Expands with New Douglasville Location

United Physician Group is now offering more healthcare options and convenience with its new location in Douglasville, GA. The new location (2022 Fairburn Road Suite D., Douglasville) will offer both primary care and pain management services with Dr. Kelvin Burton and McFrances Hayes, NP-C.

“I’m excited and honored to represent United Physician Group in Douglasville,” says Dr. Kelvin Burton. “We care for your whole family, at every stage of life. From pediatrics to geriatrics and every age in between, we give all generations of your family the individualized care they need to stay healthy and well.”

The practice will be a resource for comprehensive care for Douglasville and its surrounding communities. We are primary care providers, specialists, and healthcare management leaders united to better serve your health.

Make an appointment with us online or call 833-523-0906.

Dr. Daryl Sherrod from UPG Received Top Doctors Honors in Atlanta

Primary care provider Dr. Daryl Sherrod of United Physician Group, an acclaimed network of Southeastern physicians, ranks among metro Atlanta’s Top Doctors in Atlanta magazine’s July issue. Dr. Sherrod practices at United Physician Group Family Medicine of Decatur and Lithonia.

Dr. Sherrod specializes in hypertension and diabetes. He received his medical degree from Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University. Dr. Sherrod is a member of the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians.

“Receiving an accolade such as this is most certainly an honor,” says Dr. Sherrod. “Medicine, however, is a team effort, and I’m grateful to work with such a dedicated and talented staff.”

Atlanta magazine uses a database of top doctors compiled by Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., an established healthcare research company based in New York, to assist in its annual effort. Doctors are nominated for consideration through both a nationwide survey and a peer nomination process. Castle Connolly’s physician-led team of researchers then select the Top Doctors through a rigorous screening process that includes an evaluation of educational and professional experience. This year the publication honors 1,002 of these physicians representing the following counties: Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Hall, Forsyth, Cherokee, and Rockdale.

United Physician Group is a network of acclaimed healthcare providers practicing in communities across Georgia and South Carolina. United Physician Group’s doctors come from prestigious university hospitals, Level I Trauma Center ERs, and neighborhood practices with deep connections to their communities. Practice locations currently offer primary and family care, and interventional pain management.

Dr. Sherrod is now accepting appointments at United Physician Group Family Medicine of Decatur and United Physician Group Family Medicine of Lithonia. Schedule a visit today.

How to Find the Right Family Doctor for You

In a world where telemedicine has become common, and information is digitally available at a click, what’s the need for a personal family doctor? Why go through the inconvenience of researching MDs when there’s a walk-in clinic around the corner?

The answer is that your primary physician is an important member of your whole-health team. They will be an engaged, collaborative participant at every step of your physical wellness. A long-term relationship with a family doctor can be as beneficial as any other measures you take for your longevity.

At United Physicians Group, our primary care physicians keep your best interests at the center of focus. Here are some guidelines to assist you in this important choice. 

Start with the Red Tape

To maximize insurance benefits, you’ll likely need a doctor who is within your healthcare insurance plan’s network. Start by using the insurer’s directory, and then call the individual doctor’s office to confirm they do accept your plan.

While you’re confirming, ask whether or not the doctor has hospital admitting privileges. The doctor you choose may determine which hospital you are referred to if it becomes necessary.

Consumer Reports also recommends visiting certificationmatters.org to verify board certification. Searching for malpractice claims is another part of their advice. While a lawsuit is something that can happen to any doctor, no matter their level of excellence, finding more than one or two may prompt you to look elsewhere. 

Consider Location & Hours

A family doctor whose office requires a tiresome commute for you is unlikely to be a good fit. If it’s challenging to attend your annual physical, you may be much less likely to go in for other appointments, even when you need them. 

Don’t forget to consider your schedule, too. Appointment hours that don’t align well with your routine may complicate getting care. Are walk-ins available? How far out do you have to schedule an appointment? Similarly, ask whether the office provides a platform for secure email queries, an electronic portal for accessing records, or “after-hours” consultations.

Above all, pay attention to whether you feel your doctor can take the time to give you and the members of your family quality care and attention. 

Research Available Services

Equally important are your doctor’s services and areas of expertise. Beyond annual wellness or back-to-school visits, can they provide immunizations and in-office lab tests? Are they versed in current research around cancer prevention, diabetes, reproductive, or cardiovascular health? What about mental wellness, nutritional and exercise planning, or addiction cessation?

Remember that there are many factors that contribute to your long-term wellbeing, so it’s wise to screen potential family doctors for multiple areas of knowledge, skill, and concern. 

Consider the Personal Touch

“How well you and your doctor talk to each other is one of the most important steps to getting good health care,” reminds the National Institute on Aging. Be honest with yourself about personality qualities that may be of importance to you, including:

  • Gender (Woman, Man, Trans, Gender Fluid)
  • Age
  • Language fluency
  • Communication approach (Soothing and Gentle, No-nonsense and Direct)

Doctors are professionals who understand that they won’t be right for every patient. They want you to find a good fit, too. 

When you’re ready to begin, schedule an appointment so you both can get to know each other and discuss your health history and current needs. Though it may take a few attempts, the investment in this relationship is an investment in your long-term health! 

To make an appointment with a primary care physician with United Health Group, or to learn more about our services, contact us online at your convenience. 

How to Incorporate Exercise When You Have Chronic Pain

It doesn’t take much research to uncover the benefits of exercise. Most of us already know that physical activity helps us maintain a healthy body weight, strengthens muscular and skeletal systems, can combat chronic diseases, improves sleep, and alleviates stress.

All of these exercise advantages are especially helpful for those dealing with chronic pain on a regular basis. A 2016 study published by the U.S. Association for the Study of Pain furthermore suggests that “high volume, low intensity [physical activity] may have beneficial effects on pain modulatory function in healthy older adults.” In layman’s terms this means — the right kind of exercise might actually help with your pain.

But managing exercise simultaneously with chronic pain can be a challenge. The experts at United Physicians Group understand these nuances, and we’re here to help you navigate that landscape.

Get a Solid Start

Before you begin, Healthline experts recommend consulting your healthcare provider in an initial physical examination. Talking with your doctor prior to or in the early stages of an exercise regimen can help identify any potential hazards or concerns, such as instability or dizziness, or other conditions that may determine what form of exercise will keep you active but also prevent further pain or injury.

You and your health provider can also establish a baseline for your current pain. Then you can track any increases or decreases in your pain levels as you start your exercise program.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

To reduce the risk of making your pain worse, take exercise slow. Rely on low-impact and low-intensity exercises at first, such as swimming, walking, or light resistance training. As you gain strength, flexibility, and endurance, you can increase both weight load and intensity.

Lightly warm up muscles and blood vessels before your workout, and leave time to cool down with stretches afterward. Over time, stretching will increase your flexibility and improve your range of motion. According to David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, stretching can prevent exercise from putting too much strain on the muscle itself — another way to avoid more pain.

“Exercising releases feel-good endorphins,” says Wendye Robbins, MD, in an interview with Prevention, “which can help ease the pain all over. Start with simple exercises that target the less painful parts of your body.”

Pump Those Fluids

Staying hydrated is important for all of us, especially during a workout, but most especially for those with chronic pain. According to an interview in Spine Universe with Dana Cohen, MD, keeping well-hydrated is “the single most important thing we can do to treat and prevent chronic illness.”

Drinking water regularly (especially before, during, and after exercise) can also help lubricate joints, ease muscle cramping, and possibly improve muscle strength. Coping with chronic pain is complicated enough, without also having to worry over a new
exercise regimen. As your pain management specialists, we are here to help craft a plan that works for you. For a pre-exercise analysis, and advice on optimal workout routines, contact us online any time to schedule an appointment.

Are You What You Eat When it Comes to Chronic Pain?

The month of March marks a time of change: There’s the coming of spring, the start of daylight saving time, and even a chance to change your luck on St. Patrick’s Day. But March is also National Nutrition Month® — which presents an opportunity to change your eating habits, too. 

Turns out, paying attention to what you’re putting into your body isn’t simply good for your general health and well-being. Studies suggest that our diets can also help with chronic pain.

“A lot of chronic pain is the result of chronic inflammation,” says Dr. Fred Tabung, in a 2018 article from Harvard Health Publishing, “and the evidence is quite strong that your diet can contribute to increased systemic inflammation. But your diet is also one of the best ways to reduce it.”

Extinguishing the Flame of Inflammation 

Several sources can help point you in the right direction when it comes to identifying foods that either promote or prevent inflammation. The Fit Institute of Chicago, for example, recommends avoiding red meat, refined carbohydrates (in most cases: products made with processed white flour), soda, and fried foods to aid in inflammation reduction. Harvard Women’s Health Watch agrees, and adds margarine to the mix. 

Margarine (rather than butter) is on that list for a reason, as excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids (not to be confused with their cousins, omega-3 fatty acids), may also contribute to inflammation, according to The Arthritis Foundation. This means check the ingredients on your salad dressings, and moderate your intake of safflower, corn, grapeseed, peanut, sunflower, and vegetable oil. Mayonnaise may be a place where omega-6 fatty acids lurk, as well. 

“To reduce levels of inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet,” Harvard Health Publishing recommends. Several studies suggest the Mediterranean Diet, with its focus on plant-based foods and whole grains, but the Mayo Clinic also breaks down their advice fairly simply when they suggest “eat more plants” and “cut the processed stuff,” among their five “simple rules of thumb for anti-inflammatory eating.”

Anti-inflammatory eating doesn’t just help with chronic and arthritic pain, either. Several sources, including The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy and The Neuropathic Therapy Center at Loma Linda University Health suggest it can benefit those suffering from peripheral neuropathy, too.

Can What’s in Your Stomach Also Go to Your Head?

Following the Mediterranean Diet and keeping omega-6 fatty acids low could also help with migraine headaches a 2020 study in Nutrients suggests, though the authors also encourage a willingness to experiment with solutions. Because of the more complex causes and contributing factors of migraines, one single diet plan may not be a fix-all. An elimination diet to identify more specific food triggers is recommended. Researchers also find ketogenic, modified Atkins, or an epigenetic diet may provide relief.

More reason to be flexible, and willing to experiment? The American Migraine Foundation says a variety of different foods may trigger migraine, including alcohol (especially red wine and beer), chocolate, aged cheese, cured meats, smoked fish, yeast extract, and artificial sweeteners. But even making sure you’re eating regularly is something the Foundation suggests may relieve this specific kind of pain. 

Pain in a Bottle

While alcohol shows up as a specific potential trigger for migraine, it has a variety of dangers for those in chronic pain. 

It may be tempting, for instance, to numb chronic pain with a cocktail or glass of wine, but the National Institute of Health warns that mixing alcohol with pain medications could cause dangerous problems. They also note that, as tolerance to alcohol’s effects develops, more alcohol is needed to reach the same analgesic effect. This can create alcohol dependence, and the consequential string of health risks associated with it, as listed by the CDC, including stroke, heart disease, and the risk of several cancers.

Keep in mind, whether you’re in chronic pain or not, alcohol is a well-established cancer-causing agent (among other health problems), and moderating your alcohol consumption is good practice for anyone concerned about their longevity.

Cup of Caffeine Instead?

Alcohol may be a clear thing to avoid, but advice about caffeine is a little less consistent. Though the American Migraine Foundation suggests limited caffeine might help treat migraine headaches (and acknowledges that caffeine is a common ingredient in many over-the-counter headache medicines), The Global Pain Initiative recommends caution with it:  “Caffeine actively causes pain by decreasing the pain threshold and making the nervous system more alert to pain.”

Tracking your consumption of and sensitivity to caffeine (as well as other specific foods) in a food diary may be the best way to help you narrow down the cause of (or solution to) the pain that ails you in this regard.

Find a Friend for This Relationship

Navigating the effects of chronic pain is complicated enough, without also having to sort out the best way to stock your fridge and pantry at the same time. Even when the relationship between what we eat and how we feel seems clear, the exact solutions aren’t always so easy to find. It’s why we recommend reaching out to a pain specialist for help crafting an individualized plan to address the whole experience of your chronic pain. Contact us any time to schedule an appointment and craft a comprehensive strategy (including what you eat) just for you. 

Safely Reach Out And Touch Someone if You Can (and Suggestions if You Can’t)

With Valentine’s Day falling smack in its center like a succulent cherry, February traditionally marks the month of love and affection. For many, the celebration of February 14th might include not only wine, roses, and a gourmet dinner, but also hugs, kisses, and possibly some sex. 

This year, however, February 2021 also marks the first anniversary of the United States’ public battle with COVID-19. In spite of 2020’s precautions and protocols (not to mention the current rollout of vaccines), the number of confirmed cases (and deaths) still increases daily. Nearly a year ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested we may never shake hands with each other again, and the “air kiss” greeting has certainly been retired until further notice. Today, masks, social distancing, and sanitization remain vital requirements. 

So what does that mean for the Month of Love? Has our need and desire for physical affection become obsolete?

Touched by the Hand of Science

The answer is a resounding no. In fact, a scientific study in the Western Journal of Communication supports that positive physical touch is not only good for your mood and your spirit, but also for your heart — and then some. Another article in The Journals of Gerontology indicates that hugging and embracing, receiving a pat on the back, getting a supportive neck massage — or experiencing any other close physical contact — can lower heart rate, improve sleep and respiratory rates, and yield higher oxytocin levels.

Moreover, as reported in Research on Aging, high physical touch can be protective against high blood pressure. A study of 59 women (reported in Penn Medicine) has also demonstrated that women who more frequently hug their partners often have a lower resting blood pressure than those who rarely engage in physical touch. 

What’s Oxytocin Got to Do with It?

While lower blood pressure and heart rates seem to be obvious health benefits (especially during American Heart Month) why are higher oxytocin levels something worth our attention? Known commonly as “the Love Hormone,” oxytocin is generally linked to the mother-child bond and/or skin-to-skin contact. But higher levels of oxytocin help us all feel more peaceful and satisfied. 

For example, elevated levels of oxytocin have been linked to improved sleep, as well as the ability to tell our brain we’re full and don’t need that second helping of macaroni and cheese. As also summarized in Frontiers in Psychology, when our oxytocin levels are higher, it’s possible we’ll sleep better, eat more sensibly, and feel more relaxed — therefore avoiding the myriad health complications of lack of sleep and overeating. 

Oxytocin also has the ability to undo the potential negative effects of cortisol — a stress hormone — in our bodies. When at work, cortisol prioritizes the systems required for short-term survival, rather than those that sustain long-term health. Higher levels of cortisol can contribute to a weakened immune system, suppression of the digestive system and reproductive systems, and as the Mayo Clinic reported, in general, create a greater chance of getting sick.  

“Oxytocin is part of a complex system of neurohormones, but when it’s released by physical touch it can have many benefits, including laying the foundation for cognitive, social and emotional well-being.” Paula S. Barry, MD, physician at Penn Family and Internal Medicine Longwood

But What If You’re Not Romantically Involved?

A careful read of all these studies indicates that the most direct way to increase oxytocin levels is through mutually welcomed, positive, enjoyable physical contact — preferably with someone you love. But this kind of connection with a domestic or romantic partner isn’t the only type we benefit from. The Journals of Gerontology reports that even positive touch from associates or others outside our closest circles may also have benefits including improved sleep, lower blood pressure, improved respiratory rate, and decreased experience of pain. 

But we aren’t limited to contact with just people, either. Affection with our furry friends can also provide similar health benefits as that with another person. Many sources, including Johns Hopkins medicine, the NIH, and the CDC encourage interactions with animals to decrease cortisol, triglyceride and cholesterol levels, plus increase oxytocin, and reduce risks of cardiovascular disease. Even simply spending time outdoors in a natural environment with birds, plants, and other wildlife (according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health) is shown to improve immune functions, prevent illnesses, and reduce stress.

Hands Up for Hands-Free Positivity 

For all of us, the new landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic means safe physical connection of any kind can only happen between a few select other humans (or animals), if at all. Even Time magazine has speculated about the negative effects of this contact-deficient world.

Fortunately, there are still ways the most independent (and germ-conscious) individual can substitute the benefits of physical contact, and keep their physiology thrumming.  

  • Jump Around
    • You don’t need the CDC or Harvard to tell you physical activity of nearly any kind has myriad positive effects on the body, including improving brain and cardiovascular health, strengthening bones and muscles, reducing your risk of type-2 diabetes, and even preventing some cancers. Whether walking, running, doing yoga or resistance exercises, or dancing around your apartment, 30 minutes of exercise five times a week will provide a boost like almost nothing else. 

Whatever you’re doing to love yourself through February, we’re here for you. If you’re not already monitoring your heart and cardiovascular health, if your stress levels appear to be increasing, if you’re concerned about a lack of physical contact — or anything else regarding your well-being — please reach out. As always, there’s a lot we can do to support your whole health, even without touch. Contact us any time to schedule an appointment

How Do You Stop Migraines?

Anyone who has experienced a migraine understands that they are much more than “just a bad headache.” In addition to a throbbing headache, migraines often include nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Bright lights, loud noises, and activity can all make migraines worse. Migraines can be debilitating both during and for some time after each episode.

About 15% of adult Americans experienced a migraine in the past three months, and as many as 20% will experience migraines at some point in their life. Migraines are three times more common in women than in men.

The causes of migraines are still not well understood, although some common triggers have been identified, including stress, hormonal changes, lack of sleep, and dietary changes. People who suffer from migraines often try to limit these triggers to reduce the frequency of their migraines.

There is no cure yet, although chronic migraines sometimes become less frequent or severe with time, age, or menopause and may eventually cease altogether. Many people suffer with them for years.

However, modern, migraine-specific medicines, combined with a better understanding of the condition, can do a lot to manage the symptoms of migraines and reduce their frequency.

Emergency Treatment for Acute Migraines

The pain of migraines can be severe enough to bring people into the ER. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, “Every 10 seconds, someone in the U.S. goes to the emergency room complaining of head pain, and approximately 1.2 million visits are for acute migraine attacks.”

It’s not unusual for emergency room doctors to use opioids to treat the pain, however mounting evidence suggests that opioids can actually increase the likelihood that they will become chronic. (This is all in addition to the general risks of opioid addiction and abuse.)

Opioids are also typically less effective than two other kinds of pain relievers called triptans and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, although pregnant women and the elderly are sometimes advised to avoid such medications.

In 2019, two new non-opioid, non-narcotic medications were approved for treating acute migraines: lasmiditan and ubrogepant. Both have been shown to be effective at rapidly treating acute migraine symptoms.

If you have recurring acute migraines, you can discuss with your pain management specialist whether one of these medicines is right for you.

Prevention

While no treatment has yet been found to prevent all migraine episodes, there’s a lot that pain management specialists can do to reduce their frequency and severity.

Migraine-Prevention Medicines

Botox has long been used to prevent chronic migraines, and in 2018 the FDA approved a new self-injected drug, erenumab, that reduces the frequency of migraines for many patients.

According to the NIH, several drugs “originally developed for epilepsy, depression, or high blood pressure … have been shown to be extremely effective in treating migraine.”

Again, these are all options you can discuss with your pain management specialist.

Address Risk Factors and Triggers

Stress, anxiety, depression, obesity, and asthma have all been linked to a higher risk of experiencing migraines. Treating these risk factors may help lower the frequency and severity of migraines.

Many other factors can trigger migraines. These vary from person to person, but they often include bright (especially flashing) lights, loud noises, missing meals, consuming too much caffeine, not getting enough sleep, and eating foods with nitrates or aspartame in them.

Not all triggers affect all migraine sufferers, so it’s important to pay attention to potential triggers and discuss them with a doctor.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Many people who suffer from migraines are able to better manage their symptoms and reduce the frequency of migraines through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. CBT strategies can help migraine sufferers relax, reduce stress, manage triggers, and better pace their activities to avoid overdoing it and triggering a migraine episode.

Conclusion

While we don’t yet know what causes migraines and can’t cure the condition, pain management science has come a long way in the pursuit of better treatment and prevention. If you’re experiencing migraines or serious headaches for any other reason, contact United Physician Group Pain Management to schedule an appointment with one of our pain management specialists.

Why Is it Important to Know Your Family’s Health History?

Thanksgiving has long been a time for families to come together. Since 2004, by declaration of U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, it has also been National Family History Day, a day for families to talk about their health histories so that everyone can better understand and manage their personal health risks.

It can be difficult enough to remember all the details of our own personal medical histories. If you’ve ever struggled to fill in your family medical history on a doctor’s intake form, you know how little many of us know about the medical histories of our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and other close blood relatives. Sometimes all it takes is a question to discover that a close relative had a health problem of which you were completely unaware.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still keeping many families apart this year, your extended family may not be crowding around the dinner table for a shared feast. Many families will find other ways to connect, whether through video conferencing or well distanced outdoor gatherings. However you come together, consider taking a little time this Thanksgiving to ask about your family’s medical history.

Why Should You Know Your Family Medical History?

According the book Understanding Genetics, “your family history might be one of the strongest influences on your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer.” Family history may also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis, depression, asthma, Alzheimer’s, and many other conditions. Certain less common but serious genetic conditions, such as sickle cell anemia, can be almost entirely dependent on genetic inheritance from our ancestors.

Healthy lifestyle choices still matter. Regardless of your family history, you’re more likely to stay healthy if you eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, stop or never start smoking, drink alcohol only in moderation or not at all, and get regular check-ups and screenings as recommended by your doctor.

However, your family medical history may alert you and your doctor to areas where you have a higher risk than the general population. While you can’t change your family history, you can make lifestyle changes that are well informed by your higher risks. Your doctor may also recommend that you get screened for common diseases at an earlier age or more frequently. (These may include mammograms, colorectal cancer screenings, blood-sugar tests, and more.) In some cases, your doctor may recommend preemptive treatments, such as calcium and vitamin D supplements for those with a higher risk of osteoporosis.

How Do I Ask My Family About Their Medical History?

Depending on your family dynamics, it may feel a little awkward at first to ask your family members about their personal medical histories, and, sure, you probably don’t want to ask your dad to “pass the potatoes and tell me about your prostate.” Framed right, however, this can be a very loving conversation that highlights the deep connections in your family and shows your kind concern for everyone’s health.

The Surgeon General created National Family History Day in part to help start those conversations. Over Thanksgiving, you can tell your family that it’s National Family History Day, talk about the importance of knowing your family medical history, then make it a family activity to gather that history. Because a comprehensive family medical history includes information about ethnicity — some diseases are more common in certain ethnic and racial groups than others — you may even learn something new about your family ancestry.

November is American Diabetes Awareness Month, which gives you an excuse to ask about a family history of diabetes. It’s “Movember,” a month to focus on men’s health issues such as prostate and testicular cancer, and men’s mental health issues. And last month was National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s certainly not too late to use that as a conversation opener.

The CDC and the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute have also created printable and online tools to help you collect all the relevant family health information. The National Human Genome Research Institute’s Families SHARES program provides printable worksheets for children and adults to fill out, assessing their risks of breast and colorectal cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The CDC’s My Family Health Portrait is an online tool that guides you through gathering your complete family health history in a downloadable and printable file to share with your family and doctor. (While the tool is online, no personal data is shared or stored with the CDC.)

What Should I Do With My Family Health History?

In short: save it securely, and share it with your family and doctors.

Whether you collect your family history in digital or paper form, save it somewhere secure so you’ll have it available whenever you need to update or reference it.

Consider sending copies to your close relatives. Just as their medical history can help you assess your health risks, your history can help them do the same.

Most importantly, share your complete history with your doctors. Together, you can discuss what risks are revealed in your family history. Your doctor may then recommend any lifestyle changes, screenings, or preemptive measures that will lower your risks and help you and your family live healthier.

Would you like help collecting your family health history? Or would you like to discuss your family history with a doctor? Make an appointment with a United Physician Group Family Medicine doctor.