It’s a very safe bet to say that, at some in our lives, virtually everyone has experienced a headache. For most people, headaches are just an occasional nuisance, and tend to be over fairly quickly. Others are not so lucky, suffering from frequently recurring headaches for no apparent reason. This problem impacts more people than you might think; in a 2009 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 22% of women and 10% of men claimed to have suffered a migraine or severe headache in the past three weeks.
Though recurring headaches are an all-to-familiar issue for millions of Americans, they are not unavoidable. By employing the appropriate treatments and preventative measures, it is certainly possible for headache sufferers to enjoy less painful lives.
The Characteristics and Symptoms of Headaches
It may come as a bit of a surprise, but headaches can fall into several different categories. Consequentially, the subsequent treatment and prevention methods are usually based on the type of headache that has stricken the patient. The most widespread types of headaches are further detailed below.
Tension Headaches – Taking the dubious honor of the most common type of headache are tension headaches, which strike both adults and children in relatively large numbers. Patients usually encounter mild to moderate amounts of pain. Thought they are hardly a rare condition, doctors are still unsure as to what causes tension headaches. For some patients, tension headaches may result from muscular contraction in the back of the neck and scalp.
Other cases of tension headaches, however, involve no muscle contraction whatsoever. Doctors theorize that these particular headaches might be caused by stressful events or circumstances, such as the birth of a child, being fired from work or social isolation.
Migraines – The word “migraine” has a very negative connotation, and for good reason – migraines typically cause intense and prolonged bouts of pain. Just how bad are migraine symptoms? Consider that patients frequently describe the pain induced by migraines as “pounding” and “throbbing.” As if the pain itself weren’t bad enough, migraines are in no rush to die down. A migraine headache can last from three hours to up to four days.
Effectively treating migraines still poses a challenge to modern medicine, which has yet to determine the triggers behind this type of headache. Doctors speculate that migraines can be traced to abnormal levels of activity within the brain, which in turn causes the blood vessels near the brain to swell in size. These enlarged vessels then contact the brainstem, notifying this pain-processing part of the brain of their condition. There is also evidence that suggests recurring migraines can run in families.
Sinus Headaches – You might have heard people mention their sinuses before, probably in reference to a sinus infection. Your sinuses are empty spaces stationed behind your forehead, cheekbones and nose bridge. The sinus tissues can become inflamed due allergic reactions, infectious bacteria or tumors. Not surprisingly, these swollen tissues can lead to pain in all of the expected areas – the forehead, cheekbones and the bridge of the nose.
Cluster Headaches – Cluster headaches double as both the rarest and most severe type of headache. People unlucky enough to develop cluster headaches experience nonstop pain that often prevents them from sitting still. Unlike other headaches, which attack the forehead, the pain from cluster headaches emanates from behind one or both of the eyes. The term “cluster” refers to the manner in which cluster headaches strike the body. In most cases, patients will suffer from 1 to 3 daily headaches over a period ranging from two weeks to three months. At the conclusion of this “cluster” period, the condition will disappear for several months or years before suddenly returning.
Following the unfortunate pattern of other headaches on this list, the causes of cluster headaches remain a mystery. One possible explanation centers on the hypothalamus, a small but important part of the brain that greatly influences your emotions, behavior and wellbeing. Researchers have noticed that the hypothalamus exhibits abnormal levels of activity during cluster headaches.
Mixed Headache Syndrome – As its name would indicate, mixed headache syndrome is a blend of two kinds of headaches, specifically tension headaches and migraines. A patient with this condition has to deal with the worst of both worlds; symptoms include both intermittent yet painful migraines and more frequent (but less potent) tension headaches.
While a nasty headache can stop you in your tracks, the right form of treatment can help alleviate headache-induced pain. The following list briefly details how various types of recurring headaches are usually treated. Of course, it is always advisable to consult with your doctor when dealing with medial issues.
Tension Headaches – Familiar over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, usually do the trick. For persistent tension headaches, a doctor might recommend meditation, relaxation techniques or message therapy.
Migraines – If over-the-counter medicines prove ineffective, a doctor might prescribe more potent medications. Migraine patients might also benefit from resting in dark and quiet rooms, holding hold or cold cloths against the forehead and limiting caffeine intake.
Cluster Headaches – Given their severity and tendency to develop rapidly, over-the-counter drugs are all but useless in fighting cluster headaches. Instead, doctors often attempt to treat and prevent cluster headaches with strong prescription medications. Common treatment methods include preventative medications, intravenous drugs and certain nasal sprays. In addition, some doctors advise patients to inhale pure oxygen via an oxygen mask.
Sinus Headaches – Unlike the other headaches on this list, sinus headaches are usually the byproduct of another medical problem. The original culprit is usually an infection of the sinuses or an allergic reaction. Consequentially, treatment options usually try and take out both the headaches and the triggering condition. Doctors frequently use antihistamines, decongestants and antibiotics to remedy sinus headaches.
Mixed Headache Syndrome – Headaches resulting from mixed headache syndrome can be a tough nut to crack. Over-the-counter medications may or may not work; some patients become too reliant on these drugs, reducing their overall effectiveness. For some people, prescription drugs might be necessary. It may also be beneficial to keep a running log of your headaches; this can help you pinpoint the triggers behind your symptoms. For example, you might notice that you suffer headaches soon after drinking caffeinated beverages.
While headaches can be caused by factors outside of our control, headache frequency can be significantly reduced with a few minor lifestyle changes.
- Be mindful of your posture when sitting and walking.
- Try to move around during the day. Sitting down for hours on end isn’t good for your health.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep. The CDC recommends seven to nine hours every night.
- Stay hydrated by drinking eight glasses of water daily.
- Don’t let your stress levels get out of hand. Exercise, deep breathing, yoga and certain hobbies are all well-established stress – fighters.
- Avoid irregular sleeping, eating and exercise patterns.
- When it comes to your diet, concentrate on whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- If you use computers frequently, take regular breaks to avoid eye strain.