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Searching the Web for Headache Relief

April 02, 2001

National Headache Foundation

Background: The National Headache Foundation, or NHF, which was founded in 1970, is a nonprofit that funds headache research and functions as an all-purpose information bureau for millions of people who have chronic, recurring headaches.

What Works: The education pages are authoritative, readable and relevant. One discusses treatment and prevention of migraines; another looks at the relationship between caffeine and headaches. There's even a page written for kids. You'll also find a list of things to think about before going to see a doctor: What was the weather like when the headache occurred? Were you exposed to odors (e.g., perfume, chemicals) or smoke? Headaches are such an individual experience that these questions can be important.

What Doesn't: Even the most holistic headache sufferer wants the scoop on drugs--what's new, what's out there, what might work. But although the foundation's list of headache medications seems exhaustive, its explanations of what the drugs do are often overly technical and vague at the same time. And for a group advertising itself as committed to research, there's little evidence of it here. No good discussion of ongoing investigations into the origins of the pain; no discussion of pain in general, or theories of how it's expressed and why. And as of late March, the site's clinical trials page was coming up empty: Not a single trial was listed.


American Council for Headache Education

Background: ACHE functions as a public information arm of the American Headache Society, an organization of some 1,700 doctors, researchers and other professionals who treat head pain. The site is meant as a kind of online library and public square where both doctors and headache sufferers can gather and learn.

What Works: This site combines an open-minded, whatever-works approach to treatment, with a scholarly sensibility that treats headaches as a social, as well as biological, problem. For instance, the discussion on women and migraines ranges from the "discoverer" of migraines (Aretaeus of Cappodocia, 2nd century) to recent myths attributing all women's migraines to PMS or an aversion to sex. At the same time, the site provides a clear overview of available medication, from analgesics to the newer triptan drugs, and what works for whom. Alongside pages full of links to outside sites and phone numbers for support groups, ACHE posts a gallery of what could be called anguish artwork--paintings, visual expressions of pain.

What Doesn't: ACHE vows upfront that it values the "best of traditional medicine, alternative medicine, drug and non-drug therapies"--but does a less than thorough job of detailing exactly what all of those are, how they might interact and how they might work. The aching head pines for a page or pages that would review the evidence for non-Western approaches, together in one place. The same goes for many of the drugs: The information is here but scattered through the site, and there's no one place where you can find a comprehensive list of drugs, how they work, their research history and their side effects. New headache drugs hit the market each year, and ACHE could devote a place to answering: Is this for me?

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