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Migraines: Are Soldiers More at Risk?

As if fighting a war overseas in order to protect our country and its people is not enough, a lot of soldiers have to deal with the chronic and sometimes debilitating pain caused by migraines. As a result, many of our servicemen and women have been evacuated from combat due to persistent and severe pain that can put their lives and the lives of others at risk. Of all the soldiers who had to go home due to chronic migraines and other headache types, approximately only one-third of them made it back to the frontlines. Those who did manage to return to active duty were those who had less physically taxing duties and those who were not engaged in combat to begin with.

Headaches in the War Zone

A person who suffers from chronic migraine headaches will find it difficult to avoid migraine triggers while in combat. In a warzone, migraine and other headache triggers are constantly present. The stress of combat is a surefire way to trigger a migraine. Also, the lack of sleep due to constantly being on their guard and the weight of the Kevlar helmets that are a mandatory part of a soldier’s uniform during combat can cause severe and chronic headaches. In a place where resting is not an option, our soldiers are given painkillers to deal with the chronic headaches, and after some time a lot of them develop medication overuse headaches, more commonly known as rebound headaches.

Physical injury is also one of the main causes of chronic headache cases in soldiers. It’s not uncommon for a soldier in combat to suffer from a concussion. According to several army researchers who had their findings published in the Headache journal, out of 1,000 soldiers they studied who have experienced concussions during their deployment, roughly 20 percent of them developed what is categorized as Chronic Daily Headaches. While headaches are quite common after a concussion, it is still unknown why soldiers experience the headaches continuously, in some cases, even daily for months after the concussion.

Treating Headaches in the War Zone

A lot of soldiers do not complain when they experience headaches because they feel it might be perceived as a weakness. In the end, instead of getting the treatment they need, they suffer through the pain or overuse medications just to get through the day. The onset of a migraine attack while in combat is dangerous not only for the soldier experiencing it, but for the people who depend on him to have their backs as well. This is why it is important for soldiers to learn how to manage their stress during downtime and get medical attention for their headaches whenever possible. Relaxation and breathing exercises when not in battle can help reduce tension in the body and help with sleeplessness. Taking pain medications every time a headache strikes is not advisable. It is best not to medicate mild headaches so that the body does not develop a tolerance for the drugs. When they experience severe headaches, the body will respond better to the medication.

Getting help for headaches shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness. In fact, if chronic headache conditions such as migraines can be treated and prevented, soldiers can get to back to work faster instead of being evacuated and sent home when the pain becomes too much to bear.

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