Dr. Keri Peterson on why people don’t see a doctor sooner about their head pain.

Busy schedules, “white coat” syndrome, fearing the worst: There are lots of reasons people don’t see a doctor about headache treatment. And there are a lot more reasons why people don’t treat their headaches, either. We talked to Dr. Keri Peterson, an internist in New York City, about these two important issues.

Would you say you see a lot of patients who complain about headaches?

Headaches are a very common complaint in my office. I am the “frontline” for patients, so they will often see me before seeing a specialist.

What do you think holds patients back from seeing a doctor sooner about their headaches?

People often put their jobs, family or kids before their own health. Taking care of themselves can be a low priority.

Many people will also put off seeing a physician because they fear that something serious is going on.  They don’t want to face that possibility, so there is a level of avoidance.

Also, for migraine sufferers, there is usually a family history of the condition, so they self-diagnose and will only see me when OTC meds don’t work.

Why is it important for people to see a doctor about headache treatment?

It’s important to get a proper diagnosis for your headaches so that they can be managed properly.  In addition, in rare cases, headaches can be a sign of a more serious condition.

When do you recommend that patients treat their headaches – right when they are coming on, or later?

The treatment is governed by the type of headache. Once a patient has been diagnosed with migraines, then I recommend initiating medications as soon as the pain begins.  Migraines respond best to medication when it is taken right away.

With tension headaches, there is more flexibility, and patients can apply a “watch and wait” approach, as the symptoms will respond to medication even in the middle of a tension headache.

Do you find that patients often “power through” their headaches?

Once a proper diagnosis is made, some people opt to ‘”ride it out” depending on their pain threshold and their personal feelings about medication. Some people do not like taking any sort of medication, while others will treat their symptoms at the onset.

Generally, why do you think that people don’t treat their headaches as soon as they feel them coming on?

There are people out there who are of the mindset that any sort of medication is bad for you and should be avoided if possible. For those who don’t like to take medication, I review the benefits and side effects of the medications thoroughly. It’s important to educate them about how so many people find relief — so there is no need to suffer.



Become a headache expert. Sign up for the 5-week Headache Boot Camp