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Headache: your go-to guide

You hear it all the time… “I’ve got a headache” and immediately understand the consequences – decreased productivity, varying levels of agony, and, often most painfully, distorted facial expressions from colleagues and friends to show solidarity against the unstoppable tyrant that is the “headache” affecting millions of people around the world every day. But there’s nothing that can be done, right? Headaches are just a fact of life that no one can explain. Ride them out and hopefully tomorrow will be a better day… Well perhaps not. Have you ever stopped to consider the different types of headaches and their causes? And what can be done to prevent the onset of headaches in the first place? This article provides a summary of the four main types of headaches and their root causes, helping you decipher your symptoms and offering practical tips for how to prevent and combat the different types of headache. Who knows, maybe next time someone (or you yourself) has a headache, you can replace your standard “oh, that’s a shame” with a “oh really, what kind?”

1. Tension type headache Tension type headaches are very common primary headaches, meaning they are not caused by any other condition. They are thought to affect more than 60% of the population, with an increased prevalence in women.

Symptoms Mild to moderate pain or pressure in the front, top or sides of the head Often described as vice-like, or a clamp squeezing your entire head Headband distribution Difficulty focusing Irritability Fatigue A feeling of pressure behind the eyes Lasts for 30 mins to a few days Sensitivity to light and sound Causes Dehydration • Musculoskeletal problems in the neck and upper back Poor posture Poor sleep Eye strain Skipping meals

Treatment Osteopathic treatment Adequate hydration Getting enough sleep Getting your eyes checked Management of stress, anxiety and depression

2. Migraine Migraine attacks are considered to be a primary headache and are often accompanied by visual disturbances. They are thought to affect approximately 20% of the population, with the first appearance often being in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. The greatest number of suffers are aged between 35 and 45 years of age, and are more likely to be women with a family history of migraine.

Symptoms Intense throbbing pain on one side of the face Aggravated by movement Sensitivity to light, sound and smell Nausea and vomiting Lasts for between 4 and 72 hours Approximately one third of people experience visual and sensory disturbances for between 5 and 60 minutes leading up to the migraine. These are known as aura. Seeing flickering lights, spots, stars or zig-zagging lines Partial loss of vision Auras can also include tingling or paralysis on one side of your face or in one arm, as well as muscle weakness and difficulty speaking. These symptoms, however, can also mimic those of a stroke, so if you are experiencing these symptoms for the first time, please consult your doctor immediately.

Causes The cause of migraine is unclear, but genetics and environmental factors are thought to play a role. Migraine may be caused by changes in the brainstem and nerve function, hormonal fluctuations and the interaction between the brain and the blood vessel of the head. Triggers of migraine may include Dehydration & skipped meals Sleep disruption Hormone fluctuations Stress and anxiety Some foods & medications Bright lights and loud noises

Treatment Medication Attacks may also be eased by resting in a dark, quiet place, drinking water and placing a cold cloth on the forehead

3. Cluster headache Cluster headaches are a primary headache disorder. They are considered to be one of the most painful and disabling disorders known to humans, affecting 0.1% of the population, and are more prevalent in men.

Symptoms Intense burning or piercing pain behind or around one eye Usually only one-sided Sudden onset, without warning, lasting between 15 minutes and 3 hours, up to 8 times per day. Severe intensity Attacks tend to occur in daily clusters, at the same time each day Some people may also experience: Watering eye Sense of restlessness and agitation Eyelid swelling Nasal congestion Sensitivity to light and sound

Causes The cause of cluster headaches is unclear, but the headaches are thought to be exacerbated by cigarette smoke, alcohol and strong smells

Treatment Medication Lifestyle changes such as a regular sleep schedule and alcohol avoidance Nerve block injection Nerve stimulation devices

4. Sinus headache Sinuses are air-filled spaces inside the forehead, cheekbones and behind the bridge of the nose. When they get inflamed, usually due to an allergic reaction or infection, they swell up, create more mucus and the pathways that drain them become blocked. The build up of pressure in your sinuses may cause pain that feels like a headache.

Symptoms Deep and constant pain or pressure in the cheekbones, forehead or bridge of the nose Pain worsens with sudden head movement or straining The face can be tender to touch and appear reddened Nasal congestion Earache Pain in the jaw

Causes Allergic reaction, hay fever Sinus inflammation caused by a viral infection

Treatment Aimed at decreasing inflammation within the sinus passages, allowing them to drain, and reducing pressure causing the headache. Antibiotics may not always be necessary Increase fluid intake Air humidification Warm compress to the face Medication – antihistamines, decongestants But perhaps the most important thing… While the majority of headaches may be attributed to primary headaches (such as tension-type, migraine and cluster headaches), a new onset of headache should always be assessed by a medical professional. If you experience the sudden onset of a new headache, headaches beginning after 50 years of age, headaches increasing in frequency and severity, headaches after head trauma, or headaches accompanied by signs of fever, chills, rash, dilated pupils, difficulty speaking, muscle weakness or numbness, seek medical attention immediately. Please note that this information is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. By Dr Laura Chapman


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