What is a headache?

A Headache is defined as a pain in the head or upper neck. It is one of the most  common locations of pain in the body and has many causes.

There are three major categories of headaches:

  1. primary headaches,
  2. secondary headaches, and
  3. cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches

What are primary headaches?

Primary headaches include migraine, tension, and cluster headaches, as well  as a variety of other less common types of headache.

  • Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache. Up to 90% of adults have had or will have tension headaches. Tension headaches  occur  more commonly among women than men.
  • Migraine headaches are the second most common type of primary headache. An  estimated 28 million people in the United States (about 12% of the population)  will experience a migraine headache. Migraine headaches affect children as well  as adults. Before puberty,  boys and girls are affected equally by migraine headaches, but after puberty,  more women than men are affected. It is estimated that 6% of men and up to 18% of women  will experience a migraine headache in their lifetime.
  • Cluster headaches are a rare type of primary headache affecting 0.1% of the population (1 in a 1,000 people). It more commonly affects men in their late 20’s though women and children can also suffer these types of headache.

Primary headaches can affect the quality of life. Some people have occasional headaches that resolve quickly while others are debilitated. While these headaches are not life-threatening, they may be associated with symptoms that can mimic strokes or intra-cerebral bleeding.

What are secondary headaches?

Secondary headaches are those that are due to an underlying structural  problem in the head or neck. There are numerous causes of this type of headache  ranging from bleeding in the brain, tumor, or meningitis and encephalitis.

 

What are cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches?

Neuralgia means nerve pain (neur= nerve + algia=pain). Cranial neuralgia describes a group of headaches that occur because the nerves in the head and upper neck become inflamed, becoming the source of pain in the head. Facial pain and  a variety of other causes for headache are included in this category.

 

Prevention

 

Migraines

Ok, now that we know what headaches are, and what types exist, the question is how can we lessen or prevent them?

Lets start with the Migraine Headache: Have you been diagnosed by an MD or self? Migraines also are categorized as a Chronic condition ~ defined as: a headache occuring 15 or more days a month with headache lasting 4 hours or longer for at least 3 consecutive months~ or not.

 Self Care, The Natural Way:

Those who experience migraines can play a significant role in managing their headache frequency and severity. Most sufferers will jump right to the pain med route and never change their lifestyle, causing long term/life time migraine episodes and long term Medication Ingestion, creating alot of other problems in the long run. Remember, these pain medications only mask and momentarily calm down the symptoms but will not cure it.

Keeping track of when migraines occur by using a headache diary can help identify patterns which precede a migraine, as well as help identify factors which contribute to the development of the headache. Once these contributing factors are known, lifestyle modifications can lessen their impact.

These modifications may include maintaining a regular schedule for eating and sleeping, as well as avoiding certain foods that might trigger a migraine. Keeping well hydrated may be beneficial, since dehydration has been identified as a migraine trigger for some patients. Regular exercise has been shown to be helpful to prevent migraine headaches. Relaxation strategies and meditation have also been recognized as effective strategies to prevent migraines and decrease headache severity.

 

Tension Headaches

The most experienced headache, this type of headache is experienced by both adults and children. Females are diagnosed more frequently than males.

The exact cause of tension headache isn’t known; however, many factors probably play a role in why people develop headache. This can range from lack of sleep, to skipping meals, or an increased amount of stress (leading to a frequent description of these headaches as “stress headaches”). Underlying illness or eye strain can frequently cause headache. Muscular tension caused by poor posture, over exertion, or anxiety may also contribute.

The pain associated with these headache typically impacts the whole head, but may begin in the back of the head or above the eyebrows. Some people experience a band-like sensation which encircles their skull, while others describe pain as a muscle tension in their neck or shoulder regions. The pain is frequently described as constant and pressure-like. Most people who have a tension headache are able to continue their daily activities despite the pain. Tension headaches are not associated with nausea or vomiting, and do not have symptoms like flashing lights, blind spots, or numbness or weakness of the arms or legs which precede the headache. These symptoms can help distinguish tension headaches from other types of headaches. In some cases, people with tension headaches report some sensitivity to light or sound. The pain of a tension headache tends to come on gradually and even at maximum intensity is not incapacitating.

Treatment & Self care:

Once again people who suffer from the tension headache first choose over the counter drugs. Although they can help, overuse can lead to headaches that are more frequent and severe.

For people who experience recurrent tension headaches, stress management techniques have been an effective way of helping to decrease headache frequency and severity. This can include regular exercise, deep breathing techniques, and relaxation training. Other non-medicinal approaches can include massage therapy, heat, ice, or acupuncture. Learning to identify stressful situations which trigger headache and taking steps to avoid these is also a useful strategy for many individuals.

I am personally a big fan of detoxing. This can be as simple as drinking spring water mixed with an infusion of lemon, lime and alittle apple cider vinegar, or as extravagant as a 5 days colon detox. I truly believe that frequent headaches can be caused by a toxicity build up within the body. Whether it is from foods, dehydration by drinking carbonated beverages and not a lot of water, or lactic acid build up with the body that has not been flushed out by drinking the recommended amounts of water. When I begin to feel blah, I know a headache is coming for a visit. So I will take a large bottle of water with me and sit in my gym’s steam room for a half hour and sweat out the accumulation of toxins within my body or throw some heat on my neck and shoulders to loosen up the musculature that could, when tight, create pressure with cranial and facial muscles. And it doesn’t get easier than that..

 

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headache is pain that occurs along one side of the head. It’s frequently described as pain that occurs around, behind, or above the eye and along the temple in cyclic patterns or clusters. The pain of a cluster headache is very severe, described as a  “drilling” type of sensation. For classification as a true cluster headache, symptoms such as tearing/watering of the eye, redness of the conjunctiva, rhinorrhea or nasal stuffiness, eyelid drooping, sweating on one side of the face, or changes in pupil size (with the pupil on the affected side becoming notably smaller) are usually present. It usually lasts from 15 minutes to a maximum duration of about 3 hours; however, the headache can recur up to eight times daily. Males are two to four times more likely to develop cluster headache than females.

Cluster headache is always unilateral, or one-sided. However, some patients may experience some variability of the side on which their headache occurs. Most patients describe their pain as occurring around or behind the eye; pain is also described as radiating along the forehead, into the jaw or along the gum line and into the teeth, or across the cheek of the affected side. Infrequently, pain may extend into the ear, neck, or shoulder. Although watering (tearing) of the eye is frequently identified, some patients may only experience some redness of the conjunctiva. Eyelid drooping or swelling and a runny nose (rhinorrhea) are often associated with the pain of a cluster headache. Symptoms more commonly identified with migraine headaches, including sensitivity to light, sounds, or odors may occur. However, unlike migraine headache, movement does not worsen the pain of a cluster headache. In fact, many patients (more than 90% in one report) describe a sense of restlessness during their pain.

Triggers

Many patients report their headaches begin while sleeping. Additionally, alcohol can trigger cluster headaches in patients who are in the midst of a cycle. Histamines and nitroglycerin can trigger cluster headaches in patients. Seasonal variation has been described, although this is inconsistent for many patients. Some patients have clusters precipitated by environmental changes or changes in stress or activity levels. Hormonal factors, or menstruation, do not seem to trigger cluster headache. Other risk factors include smoking and a family history of the problem.

Treatment & Self Care

Cluster headache treatment requires all of one’s effort. It must start in an attempt to get the situation under control with the first attack – getting as much relief as you can in the least amount of time. This is called an abortive measure and needs to take place in less than 15 minutes. One of the best ways to accomplish this is with pure oxygen. Many find that the rapid inhalation for 10 to 20 minutes gives them this edge.

As part of cluster headache treatment for relief, avoid such things as alcohol – beer and wine, which tends to trigger headaches, quickly, limit your exposure to substances like oil-based paints, solvents or gasoline. This goes for tobacco products as well, particularly during periods when headaches are clustering. Certain medicines can trigger headaches, as can nitrates found in smoked or processed meats.

There are some supplements that do seem to make a difference including: Melatonin (a neurotransmitter), as it seems to be lacking in those suffering the headaches, magnesium, as this mineral seems to be low in sufferers of cluster headaches. Cluster headache patients also find relief through a reduction in a chemical known as substance P. The presence of the chemical capsaicin (found in chilies such as cayenne pepper) can help in this area. Ginkgo Biloba, is main ingredient – terpenoid,, works with the body to improve blood flow, particularly to the brain, by maintaining dilation in the vessels. For this reason, it is thought to be beneficial for headaches, including for cluster headache treatment.
Also Kudzu has been used for its ability to improve blood flow, though it targets the cerebral part of the brain, it can help with the severity, as well as the duration of a cluster period.