Headaches & Migraines

HeadachesWhat are headaches?

  • Headaches result from signals interacting between the brain, blood vessels and surrounding nerves. At the onset, specific blood vessels and head muscles nerves are activated and send signals to the brain. Scientists are still unsure what causes this activation. 
  • The most common form is tension headaches. These chronic daily headaches cause mild to moderate pain and, in some cases, result from the under or over treatment of a previous headache.
  • Sinus headaches are associated with a deep and constant pain in the face, mainly the cheekbones, forehead or top of the nose. These usually occur with other sinus symptoms, including running nose, watery eyes and scratchy throat.
  • The least common and most severe type is cluster headaches. The pain is so intense that it often leaves sufferers unable to sit still. These typically occur one to three times a day during a cluster period, which may last two weeks to three months.

What are migraines?

  • A more intense, location-specific headache is a migraine. Usually developed on one side of the forehead, migraines can cause increased sensitivity to light and noise and can last up to three days. These headaches begin when hyperactive nerve cells send out impulses to the blood vessels, causing constriction, followed by the dilation of these vessels and the releases of inflammatory substances that cause the pulsation to be painful.

What causes headaches?

  • There are many causes of headaches. Potential triggers include lack of sleep, missed meals, dehydration, stress, using a computer or watching television for an extended period of time, very loud music, smoking, strong odors, too much caffeine, and certain foods. While headaches may vary in severity and frequency, symptoms normally can be treated and managed.
  • Headaches can also be triggered by environmental factors, such as second-hand smoke, strong odors, pollution and allergens. Stress, lighting, weather changes, poor posture and increased physical activity are other factors that can trigger headaches as well.

How are headaches diagnosed?

  • Understanding your triggers can help you avoid and manage headaches. Keeping a “headache diary” can help you identify the types of headaches you suffer from and understand what causes them.
  • When you feel the pain coming on, write down notes about the time of day, what you ate in the past 24 hours, your sleeping habits, stress and any other relevant information. When the headache stops, be sure to include when and why. If your headaches persist, make an appointment with your doctor and bring along your headache diary.

If you experience any of the following headache symptoms, seek immediate medical care:

  • Pain creates the “worst headache of your life”
  • Any problems with speech, vision, walking or loss of balance
  • Headache becomes more severe when lying down
  • Very sudden onset of pain

Statistics:

  • Nine out of ten Americans suffer from headaches.
  • An estimated 25 million days are lost from work or school every year because of migraines. (Steiner et al, Cephalalgia, 2003)
  • Ninety-five percent of headaches are primary headaches, such as tension, migraine, or cluster headaches.
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