Health and Psychology

Health and psychology



Posted by Margaret Donohue on January 1, 2016 at 9:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Headaches are a common phenomena.  It's one of the most common problem I treat in clinical practice with exceptionally good outcomes.  The first step in treatment involves identifying the type of headache somone has.

There are multiple types of headaches.

  • Muscle tension headaches-These headaches are caused by muscle strain and general muscle tension.  If they occur on an occasional basis they can be relieved by stretching, massage, accupuncture/accupressure, changing position/ergonomics, or simple over the counter pain medications like aspirin, Tylenol, or Aleve.
  • Medication over use headaches--also known as rebound headaches.  If someone is taking over the counter pain medications like aspirin, Tylenol or Aleve more than twice a week, or a triptan (migraine medications like Zomig or Imitrex) more than 10 days a month, then they are likely to need assistance in detoxing from these medications.
  • Dental pain headaches--bruxism (the grinding of teeth) or temporomandibilar joint pain (TMJ) can cause headache.  A visit to the dentist can help with a fitting for a bite guard to lessen the stress on the teeth jaw and the joint of the jaw.  Popping or clicking of the jaw helps with diagnosis.
  • Cluster headaches--these are allergy related headaches.  They usually occur on one side of the head, the affected eye on that side gets red, the pain is excruciating, the nose may run.  They typically occur at the same time of day and the same time of year.  Oxygen helps relieve pain as does antiallergy medication like a histamine blocker, or a triptan.  Alcohol, cigarettes, high altitude, and pollen levels can be triggers.
  • Migraines--migraine headaches are vascular headaches in which the hands and feet get cold and the blood vessels constrict.  There may be a distinctive aura or prodrome of flashing lights, visual patterns, or neurological symptoms, that occur with the headache.  There are YouTube videos of people with complex migraine and neurological symptoms that start to resemble symptoms of stroke with loss of speech.  Migraines often have identified triggers and can be treated with triptans to lessen the intensity or severity of the headache.  Keeping a log and knowing the triggers can help.
  • Caffeine withdrawal headaches--caffeine is a stimulant that people can be dependent upon.  When attempting to cut back on heavy caffeine substitute half decaffeinated with half caffeinated products and decrease the amount by one drink per day until you reach a reasonable level.  If you are drinking more than 10 cups of coffee or are treating excess fatigue with high doses of caffeine, you need to be seen by a physician to evaluate the reason for the fatigue.
  • Orgasm headaches are pain that follows having an orgasm.  These headaches need to be evaluated by a physician with an MRI due to a rare neurological problem involving the arteries in the brain not functioning properly.  Simple orgasm headaches with no neurological symptoms may be prevented by taking medication prior to having sex.
  • Early morning headaches--these may indicate low blood sugar, changes in oxygen level due to sleep apnea, hormonal fluctuations, neck or back pain, dental pain, or caffeine withdrawal.  
  • Sinus headaches are caused by sinus pressure and sinus pain.  There may be an underlying sinus infection.  Dental infections can spread to the sinuses as well.  Often these are mistaken for migraines, but the hands and feet don't get cold, and there may be a nasal discharge.
  • Ice cream headache-also known as brain freeze headaches occur when eating something cold like ice cream.  These headaches go away when the roof of the mouth warms back up.
  • Chronic daily headaches-these are often medication overuse headaches.  They occur more than 15 days a month for at least three months.  In cases where triggers and detoxing off meddications is not effective Botox injections have been helpful.
  • Hormonal headaches--these can occur with changes in hormone levels due to menstruation or pregnancy.  They occur during the first few months of pregnancy or for a few days before or after a menstral cycle.  Changes in food to include B vitamins and magnesium may be helpful.  Evaluation of hormone levels may help reduce or eliminate these headaches.
  • Post-concussive headaches--these headaches are of migraine like severity and occur for a period of around five years following a head injury.  They frequently are accompanied by slight neurological symptoms and rarely respond to medications.  They lessen in intensity and severity over the course of five years.  Headaches following concussion that are increasing in severity over that time frame need to be evaluated by a physician with neuroimaging.  
  • Headaches with hypertension--severely high blood pressure can cause headaches.  
  • Severe headache with neck pain/stiffness and fever requires a trip to an emergency room.
  • Headache with nausea, vomiting, and difficulty with speaking or walking requires a trip to an emergency room.
  • Headaches described as the worst pain ever-requires a trip to the emergency room.
We can help you evaluate and manage headaches.  Feel free to contact us.  818-389-8384.

Sjogren's Syndrome

Posted by Margaret Donohue on December 24, 2015 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Autoimmune disorders and viral infections are strongly linked together. There are more than 80 identified autoimmune diseases. Viruses, bacteria and other types of infections are recognized as major environmental triggers for the body starting to attack itself.

Chronic cytomegalovirus (CMV) one of a type of herpes virus that causes mild flu-like symptoms has been linked to the development of Sjogren’s syndrome. Sjogren’s syndrome is the second most common autoimmune disease in humans impacting more than 4 million people in the United States.  Sjogren's syndrome causes dry eyes, a dry mouth, and can cause joint pain, increased dental decay, swollen salivary glands, vaginal dryness, persistent cough and fatigue.

The research showing some of the mechanisms for the linkage may help with future treatments.

Research:  Anne Halenius and Hartmut Hengel, “Human Cytomegalovirus and Autoimmune Disease,” BioMed Research International, vol. 2014, Article ID 472978, 15 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/472978

Dear Doctor

Posted by Margaret Donohue on December 20, 2015 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Dear Doctor:

You don't know me and as a result my medical history will not be believed until it is.  My tests tend to come back normal in spite of obvious symptoms of illness.  I have a number of unusual medical conditions going back to birth, literally.  Many of these are genetic and rare.  They run in my family so I'm familiar with some of them, but the presentations never seem to match text book descriptions.  So I'm not believed.  I know that.  I understand that.  That doesn't make it correct.  I'm part of a large number of patients with unusual, rare or atypical medical conditions.  I am not alone.

So let me explain some things.


  • I'm not stupid.  If I tell you I'm sick, it's because I believe I am.  It doesn't matter what the lab tests say,  It doesn't matter what you're training says.  Nothing in your experience will prepare you for the likes of me or other people like me.  If you don't believe me, I'm not going to believe you.  Telling me I can't have the symptoms I have won't help.  I remember I was in the process of losing my airway and coughing.  The physician at the ER didn't believe a breathing treatment would help.  i think he said "it's stupid."  After three minutes into a breathing treatment my coughing stopped and I could breath freely.  He was surprised.  He did the treatment only because I insisted.

  • I live with these symptoms.  You might want to take some time to understand them.  Going with the first thing that pops in your head as a diagnosis doesn't inspire confidence.  I had severe vomiting.  The tests all came back negative doctor at the ER said "Maybe it's stress."  No. Vomiting is not a symptom of stress.  I had an atypical life threatening reaction to a medication I'd been on a long time.  Not stress.  


  • Look at me.  Get your face out of the computer, the chart and the lab findings, and actually look at me.  If you have any understanding of clinical medicine, it might help if you look at the patient. My labs come back normal because I have low blood volume.  I've been told I'm not anemic even when I was ghastly pale and fainting.  I've been told I have no signs of infection even with pus coming out of my eyes. Look at me it might help you figure out what is wrong. 


  • I avoid seeing physicians unless I already have a good idea of what's wrong.  I don't expect a physician to be able to diagnose me anymore.  I have developed a low pain threshhold and a high pain tolerance and a higher tolerance for ambiguity.   I started readng medical texts as soon as I could read.  It's why I ended up studying medicine and working with a physician after I finished my education in psychology.  It's a method for gaining some semblence of control.  The alternative is to ignore any symptoms unless something explodes and I can't function any longer.  Some people like me do that because it's easier, but we're sicker when we come to see you.  We have a greater tendency to shun western medicine and are less likely to see it as helpful.

  • Telling me, there's nothing wrong doesn't help.  Asking why I waited so long to seek treatment doesn't help. I've had these two responses within 24 hours.  I saw a doctor and said I had pneumonia.  He said I didn't and sent me home telling me I had a cold.  I went home.  18 hours later I went to the emergency room with 103 fever and both lungs full of fluid.  The second doctor said I should have come in sooner and not waited so long.  The first doctor was the chief physician at the medical group.  I showed him the chest x-ray from the second physician.

There are millions of people with rare or unusual medical conditions.  I'm not alone.  Women with these conditions are more likely to seek treatment than men with these conditions.  Women report more trauma as a result of these interactions.  Men tend to be more avoidant of treatment and there is a resulting higher mortality rate.



Posted by Margaret Donohue on December 13, 2015 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Migraines are a type of vascular headache causing a variety of responses to inflammatory pain in and around the lining of the brain with symptoms of acute nausea, vomiting and severe pain.  They are different from tension headaches, cluster headaches, rebound headaches, post-concussive headaches, sinus headaches, headaches from hypertension, headaches based on changes in blood sugar, abdominal migraines, hormone related headaches, chronic progressive headaches, and mixed headaches in addition to rarer forms of headaches.  

Migraines cause the hands and feet to be cold.  They may cause a wide variety of neurological symptoms such as loss of speech, problems with vision, visual and auditory hallucinations including hearing music, and olfactory hallucinations.  They can be triggered from a variety of foods, medications, hormonal conditions, stress, genetic predisposition, and environmental conditions.  It's important to differentiate migraines from other types of headaches and other medical conditions.  

There are a wide variety of treatments for migraines.  These include lifestyle changes to reduce stress, adding meditation or yoga, physical therapy, massage and ensuring adequate sleep and exercise.  There are lifestyle changes to eliminate triggers for migraine such as eliminating caffiene or other migraine triggering foods or drinks, changing diet to a less inflammatory diet, and changing sleep and wake patterns.  There are medications taken at the start of a migraine to lessen the intensity and severity of migraine, and medications taken to prevent migraines from occurring.  In chronic migraine botox can be used.

If you are having chronic headaches feel free to contact me for evaluation.  818-389-8384.

Medical Necessity for Testing

Posted by Margaret Donohue on November 19, 2015 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Many people think their insurance covers psychological or neuropsychological testing.  Insurance will stipulate that psychological or neuropsychological testing if it meets criteria for medical necessity.  That doesn't mean that a physician or a school or a teacher thought the testing would be necessary.  It means that psychological or neuropsychological testing meets the strict criteria set forth by the insurance company.  

Medical necessity means that there is no other agency or organization that can provide testing at state or federal expense.  So that eliminates testing for:

  • educational placement 
  • disability 
  • Regional Center services
  • Gifted placement

 It means that psychological or neuropsychological testing will produce a change in diagnosis or treatment plan and is the most cost efficient method of obtaining that information.  So an MRI or CT scan may be able to rule out memory problems related to brain disease or defect.

  • Schools provide psychological testing for placement in special education including gifted classes.  
  • Schools can evaluate for ADD/ADHD and learning disorders to determine accommodations
  • Regional Center provides their own testing to confirm the need for services
  • Social Security Disability provides testing to document disability for benefits

If you are interested in obtaining insurance benefits to cover psychological or neuropsychological testing GET AN AUTHORIZATION NUMBER from the insurance company.  

If you are interested in having psychological or neuropsychological testing feel free to contact our office.  We have access to a large number of psychological and neuropsychological tests at reasonable fees.  If you are eligible to use a free service we will advise you of that.  Feel free to contact us.  Our main office number is 818-223-4116.  My cell phone is 818-389-8384 Margaret Donohue, PhD.


Taking a history

Posted by Margaret Donohue on October 25, 2015 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

I listened carefully as psychologist Anthony Zamudio, Ph.D. spoke at the 27th annual Convention of the Los Angeles County Psychological Association about his clinical practice within a primary care clinic.  He sees 30 to 50 patients a week in 30 minute intervals.  Not what I do.  He has patients he treats for psychological factors that impact physical conditions.  I see no more than 15 people a week.  I spend 50 minutes to 2.5 hours getting a history.

When I first started in practice in a medical office, my clients were depressed and anxious with some weird medical symptom that defied diagnosis.  They were frustrated as was the physician.  It was my job to assit the patient in describing their symptoms adequately so the medical condition could be illuminated.  Cancer, endocrine disiorders, rare medical conditions, and heart disease were the commonly missed diagnoses. The idea was that by taking an adequate history in addition to noting physical symptoms the physician could cut down on unneeded tests and avoid litigation for failure to diagnose.  Most people talk about medical symptoms in non-medical terms.  There is then a problem with the translation of patient language to doctor language.  So a woman comes in saying her neck hurts.  The physician gives her a prescription for ibuprophen.  She comes back saying her neck is worse.  I would then see her.  She's been cleaning her shower on her hands and knees.  She's been moving furniture.  Her son is coming for a visit.  She cleans the shower for a bit then her neck hurts.  She can no longer clean her shower. After 20 to 30 minutes of lying down covered in sweat, the pain subsides.  When she goes back to clean the shower it starts back up.  She's nausous from the pain.  I tell the physician she needs an EKG a way to check the electrical activity of her heart.  The heart attack has already occurred and she's at risk for another one.  She has an 99% occluded blood vessel found on angiography at the hospital.  At the end of the day I review the case with the physician.  So he can see what I saw for the future.  Her coloring is ashen.  There's some mild bluing as an undertone. She's laboring to breathe.  Her jaw is tight.  She never mentioned sweating or nausea so the physician wasn't cued to look for heart problems.  She talks about neck pain, but holds her hand up to her throat first before reaching around to the back of her neck.  She arches her neck slightly to take a deep breath.   Physician's still think of chest pain, which is a common presentation in men with heart attacks. Women are more likely to complain of feeling sick and maybe having the flu, or neck pain, or feeling weak or tired.  But symptoms increase on exertion and lessen on rest. If the information isn't provided the physician can't know what's going on.  

If you are having a problem getting diagnosed for your recurrent symptoms, contact our office.  818-223-4116.


Breast Cancer Screenings

Posted by Margaret Donohue on October 21, 2015 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Breast cancer in women has a population spike between the ages of 30 and 70.    


Percent of U.S. Women Who Develop Breast Cancer over 10-, 20-, and 30-Year Intervals According to Their Current Age, 2009–2011

Current Age 10 Years 20 Years 30 Years

30 0.44 1.88 4.07

40 1.45 3.67 6.83

50 2.29 5.56 8.76

60 3.48 6.89 8.90

70 3.88 6.16 N/A

Source: Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, Garshell J, Miller D, Altekruse SF, Kosary CL, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z,Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975–2011, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD,, based on November 2013 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER Web site, April 2014.

So the American Cancer Society has recommended that cancer screenings should start at age 45.  That breast exams not be done by physicians due to time constraints, and that women over 50 with a negative screening should get evaluated every two years.  

If these recommendations are followed, the rate of cancer in African American women between age 30 and 45 will increase and cancers will be found at later stages when they are harder to treat.  This is a population most at risk for breat cancer between age 30 and 45.   

Global statistics to inform health policy should be a thing of the past.  More individualized treatment recommendations should be being made based on a woman's history, genetics, racial background and life expectancy.  The more someone knows about their history, the better they can be informed about health care decisions.

A young woman with a history of breast cancer in her family who is positive for the BCRA (breast cancer gene muttion) may want to be screened early.  A Caucasian woman with no family history can wait to age 45 for an initial screening.  An African American woman with a family history of breast cancer may want to get an initial screening at 30 depending on the age at which relatives developed the disease.

If you want help with health related decision making, assistance in developing a medical genogram to evaluate risk factors, or assistance with treatment planning, feel free to contact us.  818-223-4116 our main office is in Glendale.

Medical Psychology

Posted by Margaret Donohue on October 15, 2015 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

According to the Academy of Medical Psychology (AMP), there are two educational paths to becoming a medical psychologist. One is to complete medical school and earn a license to practice medicine in the United States. The other is to complete an American Psychological Association-accredited Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) program, followed by a post-doctoral master's degree or certificate program in clinical psychopharmacology (

I have my Ph.D. in clinical psychology and spent 23 years working in a pharmacy as a pharmacy technician. I then spent two years working with a general medical practitioner in his office with his patients. In the process of all that I learned clinical medicine: the ability to evaluate and diagnose medical disorders based on clinical symptoms and physical signs. The "art" of clinical medicine is being lost. It requires considerable time and, in essence, a mentorship with a physician to notice and understand what is being observed. Unfortunately that training in clinical medicine is becoming rare. Instead of clinical medicine leading laboratory medicine, laboratory medicine has ineffectively replaced clinical medicine. The physicians who know clinical medicine are older. The impact of managed care on the ability of a physician to take a history has led to nurse practitioners and medical assistants getting that information as a more cost effective method. But it’s more costly to the patients and adds to the level of misdiagnosis being significantly high. It’s also led to concierge medical services outside of managed care.

Medical psychology effectively bridges the gap for a physician in providing medical education, ensuring compliance with treatment plans and getting that needed history. Unfortunately, there are few medical psychology practitioners and fewer still know what we do. I have to explain my role to physicians and psychologists alike. Most equate what I do to “Dr. House” from the television series. I just think of it as saving people’s lives.

photo credit: Stethescope via photopin (license)

Cats and pain

Posted by Margaret Donohue on October 12, 2015 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Some of you know I used to work with and train cats.  This infomation is put out by the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management http:" target="_blank">//

Genetic Disorders

Posted by Margaret Donohue on October 4, 2015 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

I remember being in Kindergarten when I figured out that the other children in my class were different from me.  By age five I had already had two surgeries for unusual medical problems and I was being routinely followed by six treating physicians.  So when I walked up to Nadine and asked her how many doctors she had, she looked at me like I was crazy.  She explained she didn't have any doctors.  She only got shots for immunizations.

That was when I realized my condition was likely genetic.  My kindergarten class had a garden and we planted vegetables.  We were also told about how plants grew from seeds.  I don't know how many students in my class figured out that the same process also applied to people, but I did.  So it was just a matter of waiting for science to identify all the genes to be able to figure out all the genetic anomolies I have.

Not every person or their parents want to know.  "I just want my son to be normal."  The mother told me.  I told her that genetic disorders tend to result in syndromes.  Many of the syndromes have complications that can be addressed early or monitored for so the person can stay healthy.  I've been able to avoid many of the complications of my syndromes because I know what to do to lessen my risk factors.  My siblings haven't been as fortunate.

A large percentage of individuals with genetic anomolies have something called facial or cranial dysmorphism.  In less medical language it means there's something unusual about the shape or size of their head or the size and structure of their facial features.  In other cases the genetic anomilies are more noticable on the hands or feet.  In other cases medical problems crop up early and are unusual. At age 6 months I weighed a pound less than I did at birth.  My head size is slightly smaller than normal.  It makes it hard to buy a hat. But it's just enough to know it's a likely genetic disorder.  Tracking down my biological family was difficult but I was able to trace my line back two to three generations.  that allowed me to do a medical genogram and document all the medical conditions that people were known to have.  It also documents any genetic predispositions to types of illness.

If you think you or your child has an unusul medical condition, we can help you connect to the right people to determine what is wrong and help you avoid possible preventable complications. Feel free to contact us. 818-223-4116.