WHAT IS A HEADACHE?
A Headache is defined as “a pain or ache in the head…It accompanies many diseases and conditions, including emotional distress.”Headaches are one of the most common ailments with most people experiencing a headache at some point in their life. They can affect anyone regardless of age and gender.
Headache is a painful feature of a relatively small number of primary headache disorders, some of which are widespread and are often life-long conditions. Headache also occurs as a characteristic symptom of many other conditions these are termed secondary headache disorders. Collectively, headache disorders are among the most common disorders of the nervous system, causing substantial disability in populations throughout the world. Depression is three times more common in individuals with severe headaches than in healthy people.
Headache is a broad term that encompasses many different things. Headaches are pains that occur in any region of the head; they can occur on both sides the head or be isolated to a certain location.
CAUSES OF HEADACHES:
1) Primary Headaches:
Primary headaches are stand-alone illnesses caused directly by the over activity of, or problems with, structures in the head that are pain-sensitive. This includes the blood vessels, muscles and nerves of the head and neck. They may also result from changes in chemical activity in the brain.
Common primary headaches include migraines, cluster headaches and tension headaches. Some types of headache can be both primary and secondary as they may be an isolated issue or a result of another condition or illness. Such headaches can involve:
- Direct physical stimuli, such as temperature and external pressure
- Pain over the scalp
- Physical exertion
- Other headaches
2) Secondary Headaches:
Secondary headaches are headaches that are symptoms of another condition that stimulates the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. There are a vast number of different conditions that can cause secondary headaches, ranging in severity from an alcohol-induced hangover to a brain tumor.In addition to those two examples, the following list should serve to illustrate the variety of different conditions that can cause secondary headaches:
- Blood clots
- Brain freeze
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Overuse of pain medication
- Panic attacks
As headaches can be a symptom of a serious condition, it is important to seek medical advice if headaches become more severe, regular or persistent. For example, if the headache is more painful and disruptive than previous headaches, worsens or fails to improve with medication or is accompanied by other symptoms such as confusion, fever, sensory changes and stiffness, a health care provider should be contacted.
TYPES OF HEADACHES:
People experience many different types of headache, affecting a number of areas of the head in myriad ways, with differing intensities and for variable amounts of time. Here are the characteristic symptoms associated with some of the more prominent forms of headache:
Tension-type headaches are the most common form of primary headache. They are described as a feeling of having a tight band around the head, with a constant, dull ache felt on both sides. The pain may spread to or from the neck. Such headaches normally begin slowly and gradually in the middle of the day.
Migraine is the second most common form of primary headache and has been ranked as the seventh-highest specific cause of disability worldwide. A migraine can last for any amount of time between a few hours and 2-3 days.
Rebound or medication-overuse headaches are the most common secondary headache, caused by the excessive use of medication to treat headache symptoms. They usually begin early in the day and persist throughout, improving with pain medicine but worsening when its effects wear off.
Cluster headaches are a relatively uncommon form of primary headache that affect less than one in every 1,000 adults. They strike quickly, once or more daily at the same time each day and often without warning. They usually last between 45-90 minutes and persist for the duration of a cluster period, normally 4-8 weeks.
DIAGNOSIS OF HEADACHES:
The health care provider will usually be able to diagnose a particular type of headache through a description of the condition, the type of pain and the timing and pattern of attacks. It can be helpful for those experiencing headaches to keep a diary detailing their symptoms and any possible triggers; this can help both the patient and the health care provider in establishing the precise nature and possible causes of the headaches.
TREATMENT OF HEADACHES:
The most common methods recommended for treating headaches are rest and pain relief medication. Generic pain relief medication can be bought over the counter, or healthcare providers can prescribe preventative medication, such as tricyclic antidepressants, anti-epileptic drugs and beta blockers.
It is important to follow the advice of health care providers as overusing pain relief medication can lead to rebound headaches. The treatment of rebound headaches involves the reduction or cessation of pain relief medication. In extreme cases, a short hospital stay may be required in order to manage withdrawal safely and effectively.
There are a number of steps that can be taken to adjust daily routines so as to reduce the risk of headaches and to ease the pain of headaches that do arise:
- Apply a heat pack or ice pack to your head or neck
- Avoid stress where possible and develop healthy coping strategies for unavoidable stress
- Eat regular meals, taking care to maintain stable blood sugar
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough rest and regular sleep
- Have a hot shower
Several alternative forms of treatment for headaches are also available.It is best to consult a health care provider prior to beginning any alternative forms of treatment. Such treatments include:
- Chiropractic treatment
- Cognitive behavior therapy
- Herbal and nutritional health products
In some cases, headaches may arise as a result of a deficiency of nutrients, especially magnesium and certain B vitamins. Nutrient deficiencies can be caused by an overall poor quality diet, underlying mal absorption issues or other medical conditions. As such, it is important for anyone with a suspected nutrient deficiency to work with a qualified health professional to correct the deficiency in a sustainable and holistic way where possible, rather than simply relying on an isolated supplement.