Headache refers to a sensation of pain or discomfort in the head and to a variety of abnormal head sensations. It is not a disease in itself but rather is a symptom of underlying disease.
Pain of intracranial origin (from within the brain) is produced when:
- There is traction on or dilatation of blood vessels in the brain and its surrounding tissues
- From direct pressure on nerves.
Extracranial facial pain (from the outside of the brain) may originate from:
- Irritation of structures such as the eyes, sinuses, nose, and teeth or from irritation of pain-sensitive blood vessels
- Very high blood pressure
Some common triggers of Headache:
- Hormones - Menses (period), Ovulation, Hormone Replacement Therapy, Oral Contraceptives.
- Diet – Alcohol, Chocolate, Aged cheeses, Artificial sweeteners, Caffeine, Nuts, Citrus fruits.
- Change in – Weather, Travelling (crossing a time zone), Altitude, Sleeping patterns (erratic or changes in normal pattern), Diet, Skipping meals.
- Sensory Stimuli – Strong lights, flickering lights, odors.
- Stress – Intense activity, personal loss (death, separation, divorce), Relationship difficulties, Job stress, loss or change.
- Tension headaches generally develop gradually, and often involve the entire head as well as the neck and shoulders.
- Sinusitis is characterized by headache, nasal obstruction, runny nose and fever. Pain, usually is located over the involved sinus, except in the case of sphenoid infections, in which the pain is central.
- Neuralgias of the head and neck are characterized by lessening and worsening pain.
- Contact headache may radiate to the midface or to front of the ear, has a waxing and waning quality related to the nasal cycle.
- Temporomandibular disorders include abnormalities within the jaw joint. Patients may experience swelling in front of the ears with tenderness. There may be clicking of the joint and pain upon chewing.
- Cluster headaches are headaches lasting minutes to hours and occur day after day at a similar time over a period of weeks. They are sharp and typically have a sudden onset (explosive in quality). People with cluster headaches often describe the pain as similar to an ice pick. They are typically one-sided and usually begin around the eyes or temple area.
- Migraine headaches are “bad headaches." With a classic migraine, the headache is preceded by a feeling that a headache will develop followed by visual phenomena such as dark or bright spots, streaks of light, or tunnel vision (aura). The headache then develops, usually on one side. It is throbbing in nature, accompanied by nausea and increased sensitivity to light and noise.
- Other causes include pain originating in the teeth usually caused by chronic gum disease or cavities. Eye abnormalities that may cause headache include eyestrain, glaucoma and infection or inflammation of the eyeball.
To avoid headaches, employ good health habits. These include adequate sleep, healthy diet, regular exercise, relaxation and related stress reduction management. Quitting smoking is essential in reducing the risks for all headaches.
Medications like ibuprofen or paracetamol can be very useful. No one medication has ever been proven to be more effective than the other, though there is great variability in effectiveness from person to person. Virtually any of the headache medications, can actually cause headaches if taken on a daily basis. Too much ibuprofen can damage kidneys and cause ulcers.
People with daily or frequent headaches should know that there are often very effective methods of headache prevention. Primary prevention is always valuable. For anyone with frequent headaches, stress management and improvement of overall fitness through diet and exercise are important.
Tobacco cessation can be extremely effective in decreasing headache frequency, even though headaches may at first intensify.
The most common methods of preventing and controlling migraines include elimination of certain foods from the diet and avoiding known triggers.