Headache is one of the most common symptoms experienced, with around 1 in 7 Australians taking pain relievers at any given time to relieve the pain caused by headaches. In fact nearly everybody will experience a headache sometime during their lifetime.
There are different types of headaches and their causes and treatments can vary.
Tension headache is the most common type of headache. If you are suffering from a tension headache you may experience:
- Dull, non-throbbing, mild to moderate pain
- Tight band of pressure across the head
- It can be triggered by physical or emotional stress.
Tension headaches are not associated with nausea or vomiting, or visual disturbances. If you are also experiencing these symptoms you may have another type of headache.
Migraine Headaches are more common in women than in men. A migraine is often more severe than a normal headache and can feel like a throbbing or pulsing pain. It sometimes occurs with nausea or vomiting and can include disturbed vision and hearing.
Migraines can be triggered by a variety of factors such as food, stress, fatigue and even changes in hormone levels.
Secondary headache is when the headache is symptom of another condition. On rare occasions, headaches may be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition. If your headache is very bad, is associated with confusion, vomiting, fever, or a head injury you should see a healthcare professional as soon as possible to discuss your condition.
If you experience more than the occasional headache, your headache may be triggered by specific things. By understanding what triggers your headache, you may be able to prevent future headaches by avoiding these. The following are some common triggers of headaches.
- Handling stress
Emotional stress can cause or worsen a headache in a number of ways, by tightening the muscles in the shoulders neck and head, lowering your tolerance to pain and reducing the levels of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkilling chemicals.
If such stress is a trigger of your headaches consider relaxation training, massage, yoga and exercise as ways to reduce your stress.
- Watch what you eat…
What you eat can play a huge role in your overall health and wellbeing – and can also be important when it comes to setting off a headache. Common foods that seem to be triggers include cheese (especially mature cheese), chocolate, citrus fruits, cured meats (such as hot dogs, salami and ham), and the additive monosodium glutamate, historically associated with Chinese food. Even ice cream or very cold drinks can cause headaches in some people.
Have a healthy diet and if you can, try and cut out or cut down the food that is causing you the problem. This should help reduce the number of headaches you have.
- And drink
How much you drink and what you drink can also be important. If you don’t drink enough water you can become dehydrated, and this can trigger a headache. Drinking too much of certain liquids, such as caffeinated drinks or alcohol, can also trigger headaches. Make sure you limit the amount of alcohol or caffeine you drink, and drink plenty of water every day.
- Do you eat regularly?
Fasting, skipping meals, oversleeping and thus eating late are other potential headache triggers. That’s because these can all lead to low blood sugar levels, which can cause a headache. Eat regular healthy meals, and this may help you to avoid hunger-related triggers.
- Be alert to hormones
Migraines are more common in women than men and some scientists believe that sex hormones have a role in triggering headaches. Women might find that their headaches are more frequent and severe in the days around the menstrual period. This may be because one of the main female hormones, oestrogen, drops around the time of menstruation, triggering a headache.
If your headaches are severe, you may want to discuss this with your doctor as they may be able to prescribe medication that might help.
- Keep an eye on the issue
If you are having difficulties with your vision and find yourself squinting a lot to help focus, then this excess straining may be the cause of your headaches. Get your vision checked.
- Medication use
Some medications may cause headaches as an unwanted or side effect of their use, such as birth control pills and certain medications to lower blood pressure. In addition, a small number of people who suffer from recurrent headaches, particularly with migraines, can fall into a pattern of increasing analgesic use (pain relievers), coupled with more common and severe headaches. In this situation, the pain reliever itself may be contributing to the headaches. If you find yourself consistently (for more than 3 months) taking simple analgesics for headache on 15 or more days per month, or taking combination analgesics on 10 or more days per month, then speak with your doctor about your headaches.
- Exercise in moderation
Exercise is great for your overall health, but too much physical exertion can be a bad thing when it comes to headaches for some people. Try and exercise in moderation – around three to five times a week – it may even help stress-induced headaches.
- Jaw problems
Dental issues such as infection, teeth grinding and difficulties with the joint of the jaw, such as a painful clicking on opening the jaw, not only can cause local pain but this pain can sometimes be felt in the face and as a headache. These sources of headache can sometimes be corrected by your dentist, for example with the use of a bite plate.
- Keep a diary
If you’re not sure what your triggers are, try keeping a diary that documents what you had to eat or drink or if you did any exercise when you developed a headache. Keep this diary for several headaches to see if you can identify a pattern. Once you know what your headache triggers are, you can start to avoid these and get back on track to living your life headache-free.