Is Treating Your Headache Giving You A Headache? Part 1
Headaches are generally classified as being either Primary or Secondary, and are put into one of these two groups according to their possible causes. This week, we’ll examine the causes and treatments for Primary Headaches, and next week we’ll delve deeper into Secondary Headaches.
The most common types of Primary Headaches are cluster headaches, migraines and tension headaches.
Unlike tension headaches and migraines, cluster headaches aren’t generally linked to triggers, such as stress, hormonal changes or certain foods. While the exact cause remains unknown, research suggests that irregularities with the hypothalamus (your body’s biological clock) might play a role. Men seem to be at higher risk of cluster headaches than women, and they are more common in people who smoke, drink excessive alcohol, or whom have a family history of this type of headache.
There is unfortunately no cure for cluster headaches, so the goal of treatment is to reduce the severity of the pain, shorten the duration of the headache period and hopefully prevent the frequency of occurrence. Successful pain reduction techniques include inhaling 100% oxygen for a short period, which usually gives significant relief in as little as 15 minutes. Calcium channel blockers, corticosteroids and melatonin are also effective treatments.
A number of influencing factors may trigger migraines, including hormonal changes in women (many women experience migraines for the first time during menopause or pregnancy), certain foods (especially salty or processed foods, or aged cheeses. Fasting or skipping meals can also bring on an attack), food additives such as aspartame or MSG, alcohol or highly caffeinated soft drinks, bright light or strong smells, intense physical activity (including sex), and certain medication.
Your treatment will depend on how severe and frequent your migraines are, how debilitating they are for you, and whether you have other medical conditions. Common therapies include painkillers, anti-nausea medication and alternate therapies such as acupuncture, biofeedback and massage therapy.
Tension headaches are the most common types of headaches, and can be mild, moderate or severe. Pain is usually experienced in your neck or behind your eyes, although some sufferers describe it as a tight band around their foreheads. Tension headaches are caused by muscle contractions in your head and neck region, which are in turn caused by numerous possible factors, including working in front of a computer for extended periods, or driving for a long time without a break. Other common triggers include: Eye strain, fatigue, a cold or the flu, emotional stress, poor posture, alcohol and smoking.
You can take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, but these should not be viewed as a long-term management strategy. Overuse of these medications can lead to rebound headaches. Longer term treatments include stress management classes (to help you identify and block your triggers), biofeedback (to help you manage your pain and stress), acupuncture and cognitive behavioural therapy (talk therapy to help you identify situations that are stressful for you).
Dr Alain Sanua is a qualified as a Medical Doctor and a firm believer in the efficacy of Integrated Medicine, which combines Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Nutritional Advice, Mineral and Vitamin supplementation, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Functional Medicine. He has a particular interest in treating persistent conditions, including Headaches, and would welcome the chance to chat to you about yours, identifying the causes and recommending an effective course of treatment. Contact him today to make an appointment.