A headache is a symptom, not a disease. A headache is rarely the symptom of a serious illness, but severe or frequent headaches can be exhausting and can affect daily life.
There are three basic types of headaches. The vascular headache occurs when blood vessels in the head enlarge and press on nerves, causing pain. The most common vascular headache is the migraine.
The second type of headache is the muscle contraction headache, which results when the muscles of the face, neck, or scalp contract and tighten. A tension headache is an example of a muscle contraction headache.
The third kind of headache is the inflammatory headache. Such a headache is the result of pressure within the head. The causes range from relatively minor conditions, such as sinusitis, to more serious conditions, such as brain tumors.
Pathophysiology of headaches
The brain itself is not sensitive to pain, because it lacks pain-sensitive nerve fibers. Several areas of the head can hurt, including a network of nerves which extends over the scalp and certain nerves in the face, mouth, and throat. The meninges and the blood vessels do have pain perception. Headache often results from traction to or irritation of the meninges and blood vessels. The muscles of the head may similarly be sensitive to pain.
Migraine Headaches: Causes and Symptoms
One theory about migraine headaches is that they occur when the blood vessels in the head expand and press on the nerves, causing pain. Another theory is that they result from the blood vessels constricting and thus blocking blood flow to parts of the brain; this may cause the visual impairment and numbness that often accompany or precede a migraine headache. The blood vessels then become full of blood and press on surrounding nerves, causing pain.
Women are more prone to migraines than are men, and a certain personality type — compulsive, perfectionist, and very success-oriented — seems to be more susceptible to migraine headaches.
A number of physical and emotional factors may contribute to migraine headaches. Migraines may be triggered by a sharp reduction in caffeine intake or by allergies to certain foods or food additives (among them chocolate, coffee, fatty foods, alcohol, citrus fruits, mono-sodium glutamate, and nitrates).
Emotional stress can also cause migraine headaches, as can drinking alcohol, smoking, change in barometric pressure, or an interruption in routine eating and sleeping habits (all of which may be responsible for “weekend” headaches suffered by some patients). Cyclical, seasonal, or emotional factors may also be associated with the tendency to develop migraine headaches. A tendency to develop this type of headache may be inherited. Many women get premenstrual migraines.
The predominant symptom of a migraine headache is a sharp, pulsating pain on one or both sides of the head. Paleness, sweating, nausea, and sensitivity to light may accompany the pain.
A warning sensation, or aura, may indicate an ap-proaching migraine headache. Before the pain begins, some individuals may see flashing lights or “shooting stars,” hear noises, smell fragrances or odors, or feel a tingling sensation in the arms or legs.
Cluster headaches are a form of vascular headache most commonly experienced by men. Cluster headaches have an abrupt onset and can happen at any time. The headaches can occur daily for days, weeks, or months. Their chief symptom is intense pain on one side of the head, accompanied by tearing of the eye and a runny nose on the same side. Drinking alcohol and smoking may aggravate these headaches.
While statistically headaches are most likely to be harmless and self-limiting, some specific headache syndromes may demand specific treatment or may be warning signals of more serious disorders. Some headache subtypes are characterized by a specific pattern of symptoms, and no further testing may be necessary, while others may prompt further diagnostic tests.
Headache associated with specific symptoms may warrant urgent medical attention, particularly sudden, severe headache or sudden headache associated with a stiff neck; headaches associated with fever, convulsions, or accompanied by confusion or loss of consciousness; headaches following a blow to the head, or associated with pain in the eye or ear; persistent headache in a person with no previous history of headaches; and recurring headache in children.
The most important step in diagnosing a headache is for the physician to take a careful history and to examine the patient. In the majority of cases the diagnosis will be tension headache or migraine, both of which can be managed on the basis of a clear-cut clinical picture. Where doubt remains, or if there are abnormalities detected on examination, further investigations are justified. Computed tomography (CT/CAT) scans of the brain or sinuses are commonly performed, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in specific settings. Blood tests may help narrow down the differential diagnosis, but are rarely confirmatory of specific headache forms.
Prevention of migraines is possible with several types of medication. Antidepressant drugs and beta-blockers have been shown to prevent migraines in some patients.
These drugs work in the body to block what are called the beta effects, one of which is dilation of the blood vessels. Drugs known as calcium-channel blockers, such as verapamil, nifedipine, and diltiazem, are also effective in the prevention of migraines. While it is not yet known exactly how these drugs provide relief, research suggests that they act by preventing the initial constriction of blood vessels that causes migraine.
Traditional Home Care for headaches
Keep a headache diary to help identify the source or trigger of your symptoms. Then modify your environment or habits to avoid future headaches. When a headache occurs, write down the date and time the headache began, what you ate for the past 24 hours, how long you slept the night before, what you were doing and thinking about just before the headache started, any stress in your life, how long the headache lasts, and what you did to make it stop. After a period of time, you may begin to see a pattern.
A headache may be relieved by resting with your eyes closed and head supported. Relaxation techniques can help. A massage or heat applied to the back of the upper neck can be effective in relieving tension headaches.Try acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen for tension headaches. DO NOT give aspirin to children because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.Migraine headaches may respond to aspirin, naproxen, or combination migraine medications.
If over-the-counter remedies do not control your pain, talk to your doctor about possible prescription medications.
Prescription medications used for migraine headaches include ergotamine, dihydroergotamine, ergotamine with caffeine (Cafergot), isometheptene (Midrin), and triptans like sumatriptan (Imitrex), rizatriptan (Maxalt), eletriptan (Relpax), almotriptan (Axert), and zolmitriptan (Zomig). Sometimes medications to relieve nausea and vomiting are helpful for other migraine symptoms.
If you get headaches often, your doctor may prescribe medication to prevent headaches before they occur. Examples of these include:
- Antidepressants such as nortriptyline (Pamelor), amitriptyline (Elavil), fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem), sertraline (Zoloft), or paroxetine (Paxil) for tension or migraine headache
- Beta-blockers such as propranolol (Inderal) for frequent migraine headaches
- Calcium channel blockers such as verapamil for frequent migraine headaches
- Anti-epileptic medicines such as topiramate (Topamax)
If you are using pain medications more than 2 days a week, you may be suffering from rebound headaches. Rebound headaches are caused by a cycle of using pain medications for short-term relief, followed by the headache pain returning for increasingly longer periods of time despite taking more pain medications.
All types of pain pills (including over-the-counter drugs), muscle relaxants, some decongestants, and caffeine can cause this pattern. If you think this may be a problem for you, talk to your health care provider.
Herbal remedies and other stuff to treat headaches
When the headaches first starts, applying an ice pack can provide quick relief. The ice pack can be placed on the top of the head or on the forehead.
Tension headaches result from stress and reduced blood flow to the brain, causing the neck muscles to tighten. To soothe the neck muscles apply heat. Applying a heating pad or taking a hot bath can provide relief.
A massage can relieve stress and relax the muscles in the neck and other parts of the body. With the fingertips, massage the scalp and temples, using a circular motion.
Studies have shown that Feverfew and Ginkgo reduce migraines and vascular headaches. The leaves of the Feverfew contain parthenolide, which inhibits the production of substances that dilate blood vessels and cause inflammation. Ginkgo also relieves ringing in the ear, and dizziness often associated with headaches. Feverfew and Ginkgo are available at health food stores.
Ginger relaxes blood vessels in the head and reduces swelling in the brain. It activates natural opiates in the brain that relieve pain. Ginger can be taken in the form of tea or in tablets available at health food stores.
Aromatherapy can promote relaxation and relieve stress and pain. In addition to inhaling the aroma of essential herbal oils, they can be massaged across the temples, forehead, back of the neck, and behind the ears. Some of the herbs that are effective in relieving headaches are:
- Chamomile–calming, soothing
- Cinnamon–reduces stress, loosens tight muscles
- Lavender–reduces pain, relaxes
- Lime Essence-reduces anxiety
- Marjoram-eases muscle tension
- Peppermint–reduces pain, reduces tension
- Valerian–reduces tension and pain
Biofeedback techniques can be effective in preventing and relieving headaches. It helps change and control the body’s vital functions such as temperature, muscle tension and blood flow. This is done by watching bodily reactions on a computer screen. Thermal biofeedback is commonly used for migraines. In this type of biofeedback, relaxation techniques are used to increase blood flow to the fingers, thereby diverting blood flow from the head. A certified biofeedback practitioner should be consulted for this technique.
Although exercise should not be done during a headache, regular exercise, such as walking, jogging or swimming, can help prevent the occurrences of headaches.
Other Natural ways to treat headaches
Neuro Linguistic Programming (NPL) techniques such as Koi Carp can help people zero in on causes with remarkable accuracy, so possibly can the Village once a person is familiar and comfortable with its usage.
Koi Carp can be used to relieve some headaches quite speedily because it uses time distortion, so real clock time of ten minutes can give you an hour or so at a level of relaxation that will ease away a tension headache much more effectively than aspirin or paracetamol. Instead of popping these meds, just “take five” and have a nap in the sun by the lake or in the garden.
Changing the submodalities can be useful for this sort of headache too.
Diaphragmatic breathing is another good way of relieving headaches. So too is the imaging of colors and temperatures — which can be done in the garden part of Koi Carp or even without this background structure.
Here’s how to do it:
- Imagine yourself in a bubble of light — purple, violet, or blue are good ones to experiment with, and then simply imagine that the light can seep through the skin into the cells of the whole body, lifting away the pain, and changing temperature to suit the occasion, either an experience of warmth or cold.
- Next. You simply imagine your right hand placed in a bucket of iced water. Really cold iced water, so of course it will feel as though it has lost all sensation and gone numb — without the painful bit of an actual pail of ice.
- When the hand is completely anaesthetized, simply rub it over the affected headache area and feel the numbing effect transferring from hand to pain, and the numbed hand restored to normal. This normally works well with one application, but there is nothing to stop you repeating it.
This “cold hand” one of the simplest of pain control techniques and is good for minor cramps, bumps and bruises as well.
There’s a variant called the “inner pharmacy” that works brilliantly for some willing to play what seems to be a nonsense game. To do this one, imagine going into an old fashioned pharmacy of the mind where your subconscious stores all its remedies.
Visualize a gorgeous, old-fashioned, dark place that smells wonderful and has those old mahogany drawers and counter tops and shelves of brown, blue and green bottles containing different draughts or pills.
You just look over the shelves and pick the bottle that starts twinkling like a Xmas tree light. Either swallow one — only one — of the tablets inside or pour a into the medicine glass thoughtfully left on the counter for you. You can even visualize a water bottle there for those who need liquid to swallow a pill! Who says placebo effect doesn’t work?
Your subconscious can’t tell the difference, so the imaged medication will frequently work much faster than a pharmaceutical with no side effects.
How about another ancient pain control technique? Relaxation techniques are often useful, especially if you can get hold of one of those little biofeedback meters that tells you when you’re “stressed” or “relaxed” so you get to feel the difference.
Additionally, you may need to eat something, or get some sleep, or check your posture and the chairs you are sitting on for extended periods.
It may sound like a ghastly idea, but a few swift minutes of vigorous exercise can set up enough biochemical changes to erase a simple headache.
So there are stacks of ideas that can be tried as an alternative to taking a tablet.