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Reader's Mail: Headache After Surgery

Q. After waking up in recovery from gallbladder surgery, I had a headache in my forehead and temple area. I have been taking 800 mg of ibuprofen per my doctor’s advice. Several people have told me they experienced the same thing after anesthesia. How can this be treated?

A. There are many factors to be considered in a post-operative headache syndrome, with anesthetic agents serving as just one factor. Fasting prior to surgery can act as a headache trigger for some people.  Other factors are related to being in the hospital itself and can include sleep changes, dietary changes, caffeine withdrawal, and the stress of being away from your usual environment. It has also been found that, for migraine sufferers, any sort of pain, including post-operative pain, can trigger headaches. Treatment of a post-operative headache, therefore, should be considered on an individual basis and treated in the way that makes the most sense for that person.

Christina Peterson, M.D.
The Oregon Headache Clinic
Milwaukie, OR

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