Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond
What is a headache?
Headache, pain in the head, can have many causes. The most common causes of
headache are tension and sinusitis. Other headache causes include; migraines,
cluster headaches and eye problems. Some chemotherapy or biologic therapies
may also cause a headache. For example: headache can be part of
the flu-like syndrome associated with various biologic therapies. It also
can occur because of the irritation to the lining of the brain and spinal column
when chemotherapies are given intrathecally (directly into the spinal fluid).
Because a headache can also be caused from more serious complications such as bleeding,
meningitis, or high blood pressure other disorders may need to be ruled out when
it is unclear why a headache is present.
A tension headache is usually described as a band-like pain around
the head, which may be more severe at front or back of head, with no other symptoms. A
tension headache usually lasts no more than 3-4 hours, although may have some
discomfort for days.
A sinus headache is usually described as a pain in forehead or
cheeks, made worse by coughing or bending down. Often a sinus headache includes
nasal discharge and blockage. The sense of smell and taste may be reduced. Commonly
occurs 3-10 days after a cold. A sinus headache usually clears within
3 weeks, even without antibiotics.
Things you can do to manage a tension headache or sinus headache:
- Rest in a quiet, dimly lit room. Perhaps, relaxing music would help soothe
- Cool cloth on the forehead.
- A sinus headache may be helped by warmth and steam.
- A headache originating in the back of the head or neck may be related to muscle
tension - heat and/or massage may help.
- Complementary therapies that have shown some benefit to those suffering from chronic
headaches are; massage, acupressure and reflexology (massage limited to the feet
or hands). Discuss this with your health care professional as to whether this
may be appropriate for your headache.
Drugs that may be recommended by your doctor:
- Analgesics such as acetaminophen. Do not take more than the recommended amount of
acetaminophen in a 24 hour time frame. No more than 4 grams (gm) of acetaminophen
should be taken for headache treatment. Higher doses may lead to toxicity
to the liver. Check the bottle for the milligram dose (mg) of each pill,
1000mg = 1gram. If you are taking medications that have acetaminophen as one
of the ingredients, this needs to be taken into account of the total dose for the
day. For example: Percocet® and Darvocet® each contain 325mg of acetaminophen per pill.
It is important to review all of the medications you are taking with your health
- If you have a bleeding disorder, you should avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
(NSAID) drugs, as well as aspirin, because these drugs may interfere with blood
platelets, and prolong bleeding. Use of such drugs to treat headache should
be discussed first with your healthcare professional.
- Over-the-counter decongestants: Usually containing pseudoephedrine.
If the headache is due to sinus irritation.
When to contact your doctor or health care provider about a headache:
- Headache follows a head injury.
- Severe headache, especially if it starts suddenly.
- Other headache symptoms such as vomiting, visual disturbance, neck stiffness, drowsiness,
confusion, made worse by coughing or lowering head, rash, weakness in an arm or
leg, or numbness.
- Headache not going away after three days.
Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional
about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained
in this website about sinus headache, tension headache and other medical conditions
is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.
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