You don’t have to live with your headache: here are the signs to look out for and the treatments to seek.
Somewhere along the line headaches have become one of those things we just deal with. Think about it – when last did you see a doctor purely for a headache? But with statistics revealing that one in five people worldwide suffers from headaches on a regular basis (with 12% suffering from migraines), it just doesn’t make sense to suffer in silence. Especially when it’s something that can so easily be fixed.
What is a headache?
A headache is any pain in the head whether it’s a shooting pain lasting one second or the kind of pain that puts you out of action for two days. Headaches are divided into two categories – primary and secondary. A primary headache is when the headache occurs on its own and a secondary headache is when the headache is the result of another illness.
Headache - Triggers vs causes
You’ve discovered through years of trial and error that every time you eat a chocolate (or drink a glass of red wine, or are stressed) you land up with a headache, so you come to the conclusion that this is what causes your headaches. Wrong. There’s a difference between the structure causing the pain and the trigger that pushes that cause over the edge.
The causes of most primary headaches come from structures outside the skull, and they can be divided into two categories: muscular or vascular.
- Muscular headaches are caused by tensions in the jaw and neck muscles.
- Vascular headaches are caused by problems in the network of arteries between your skull and the skin of your head.
Current academic thinking is that vascular headaches are migraines while muscular headaches are tension headaches, but there is confusion over this because many people present with the symptoms of migraines and we discover that the cause is muscular.
Keeping a headache diary is a quick way of determining any food or environmental triggers. It also help your doctor manage your headaches more effectively when you do seek treatment.
For each headache you should list:
- The date and time (when it started and finished)
- The intensity of the headache
- The type of pain (for example: shooting, throbbing, dull)
- The preceding symptoms (such as feeling nauseous)
- Possible triggers (had you just eaten a cheese sandwich, or been for a run?)
- What painkillers, if any, you used and how many you needed
- Whether or not the painkillers helped
- Relief – was it moderate, complete, or was there no relief?
When to see your doctor immediately
- If your headache is accompanied by weakness in the limbs, blurred vision or difficulty speaking
- A seizure or fit of any kind
- If the headache is the result of a head injury
- If it’s a sudden-onset headache when you’ve never experienced a headache before
- If you also have a fever and neck pain
- If the pain is getting worse steadily
Here are 3 commonly asked questions related to headaches:
Q1. Does the location of your pain vary, with a mild to moderate intensity and pressing or tightening pain? Answer: Yes
Some people have a tendency toward muscle problems and these, as well as bad posture, sitting in an incorrectly set-up desk chair and being in the car all day, can all be the underlying cause of tension headaches.
Tension headaches are usually due to a symptom of dysfunction of the joints, muscles and nerves of the neck, and the jaw joint. Common characteristics of these headaches include:
- Pain triggered by neck movement or positioning
- Reduced range of movement of the neck
- Moderate, non-excruciating pain and in some cases associated symptoms such as dizziness or nausea
- A history of head or neck pain
- A history of trauma, for example whiplash
The truth about ‘sinus headaches’ - The pains we commonly refer to as ‘sinus headaches’ are almost never linked to the sinuses. These are actually tension headaches, but because pain is experienced under the cheekbone they are confused with sinus problems.
Q2. Is the pain all over your head and does moving around making it worse? Answer: Yes
Dehydration - Inadequate hydration triggers a pain response in your head: if you take a pill with a large glass of water for this headache and find that your pain is relieved, it’s most likely the water that did the trick rather than the pill.
Q3. Is it mostly one-sided, accompanied by nausea and vomiting, with severe pain and a definite start and end? Answer: Yes
Migraines - A migraine is a headache but not all headaches are migraines. That said, there is plenty of debate about what exactly constitutes a migraine and what causes them. What is known is that women are more likely to suffer from them than men (suggesting a hormonal link), they last for between four and 72 hours, are usually felt on one side of the head (although they can be experienced all over the head), and are accompanied by light and sound sensitivity, nausea and vomiting.
Chocolate and your headaches - A recent scientific study performed in London found that chocolate triggered migraine in 41% of the subjects (so steer clear of chocolate treats next Valentine’s day!)