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When Even Your Headache Pills Give You a Headache is There a Way Out of the Medical Maze?

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So you've got a headache and you want to be rid of it.

It's simple, right? You take a tablet.

Or is it? As the Global Year Against Headache draws to a close the strategy for dealing with "the most frequent of medical complaints" is far from clear cut.

For a start, that painkilling pill you are popping might actually cause "severe headaches", according to new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). A BBC bulletin on the guidance explains that a "vicious cycle" of taking too many tablets might in turn result in "medication overuse headaches" that are "completely preventable".

Then there is the more traditional variety of aching heads with simpler names and straightforward diagnoses - like the frequent headaches I suffered in my late teens and early twenties, diagnosed as sinusitis.

Or most likely misdiagnosed as sinusitis, as it turns out, according to the Daily Mail. Angela Epstein cautions readers that what doctors think may be sinusitis could instead be a migraine.

She quotes Dr Raju Kapoor, a London-based Consultant Neurologist:

Sinus problems are hugely over-diagnosed, and the pain is often caused by migraine. The wrong form of treatment is given, such as antibiotics or invasive surgical procedures to clear the sinuses, which will have no effect.

I was given those antibiotics. Of course, sinusitis might have been a correct diagnosis in my case, and then the prescription would have made sense. Right? Wrong. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has concluded that "in most cases, the medication does not provide symptom relief for the condition". Study author Dr. Jane M. Garbutt, a research associate at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, explains that sinus infections are more often viral than bacterial and antibiotics are of no value in treating the former. Perhaps, then, the problem with my diagnosis was that it lacked precision. I only needed to know which sinusitis I suffered from. Easier said than done. Garbutt told the Boston Globe :

While some people with sinus infections actually do have a bacterial infection, they can't be distinguished from those who have viruses since there's no simple way to draw a sample from the sinus cavity, short of surgery.

At the time I didn't know of these complications surrounding my diagnosis. I just knew I had painful recurring headaches and that the prescribed drugs didn't dent the symptoms while leaving a legacy of undesirable side effects.

Those who seem to be trapped in a similar medical maze might understandably feel, like I did, that there has to be a more effective solution to such suffering.

The NICE guidance itself includes one alternative to painkiller pills for "headache management". It recommends acupuncture as a preventative approach for dealing with at least some types of this complaint.

Angela Epstein's article pinpoints several "preventative tactics" recommended by medical experts.

And a recent study even found that "lying less" is linked with better mental and physical wellbeing, including less frequent headaches. For those who don't boast a 100% integrity track record that might be an avenue worth pursuing.

And then there's the approach I eventually took. This didn't afford the kind of quick relief promised in some drug ads but the beautiful thing was that its impact proved permanent.

Simply put, in the midst of a bout of painful headaches I set aside the medicine and set about trying to understand the healing principle underlying the words of Jesus, as explained by Christian Science. Nothing changed at first, but I was grateful not to be facing the unwanted side effects.

After some weeks of considering these ideas something clicked after a midweek church service. I felt the presence of that divine love which Jesus seemed to know so intimately. I felt it loving me and loving everyone else in the diverse London neighbourhood I was visiting. It clearly had no favourites and its warmth seemed to embrace one and all. In the light of such compassionate love I felt impelled and empowered to fear and hate less and to love my neighbour more.

At first the pain remained but somehow seemed separate. Soon afterwards it drained away.

That was almost thirty years ago and those severe headaches have never returned. I've barely had a mild headache since. I had gleaned the therapeutic possibilities of what author-physician Dr. Larry Dossey has described as the "nonlocal mind" which is "suffused with spiritual meaning".

Striving to be more aware of that unbounded spiritual consciousness has been my first choice of medication since. And while such an approach to health is no guarantee of problem-free living, each pain prevented by discerning life more spiritually is not only a physical freedom gained but a tender pointer to the fact we all have a divine heritage.