By Lindsay R. Curtis, M.D.
Carnrick Laboratories, Inc.
If you suffer from headaches, you have a lot
of company. Over half of the patients seen in a doctor's office
complain of headache.
It is extremely rare that a headache is a sign
of a serious health problem. Most headaches are functional
headaches, caused by how we live: fatigue, emotional upset,
frustration, anger, etc.
In general, there are two types of headaches.
In migraine type headaches the blood vessels in
the head usually become stretched or swollen. The stretched or
swollen blood vessels cause a throbbing head pain, that may feel
like beating drums, every time the heart beats.
What is a migraine headache?
You might suspect a migraine type headache if
you have one or more of the following symptoms.
- Often occurs upon awakening.
- May appear after heavy activity or a
hectic week. (For instance, the first day or a weekend or
first day of a vacation.)
- Increase of attacks during stressful
situations, such as school problems, first job, etc.
- Attacks occur after consuming certain
foods, such as chocolate, cheese or alcohol.
- Other members of the family have similar
- Signs may have appeared early in childhood
with unusual fever or car sickness.
Is there any other way to identify a migraine
- You may have a distinct feeling of well-being
just before the pain commences.
- You would probably have throbbing pain.
- The pain would most likely occur on only
one side of the head.
- Nausea and vomiting normally occur.
- The throbbing pain usually evolves into a
dull, steady pain.
What is a tension headache?
A tension headache is sometimes called a "pressure"
or muscle-contraction headache. It feels as though something is
squeezing the head. Some patients describe the pain as a "too-tight
band" around the head. Both neck and scalp may feel "sore."
What causes a tension headache?
A tension headache is most often caused by
stressful or pressure situations that bring on fatigue or
nervousness, which in turn causes SPASM or KNOTTING of the
muscles of the shoulder, back-of-the-neck and scalp.
What are other symptoms of
- Comes on without warning and usually
following stress and emotion.
- May begin as mild but CONSTANT aching that
gradually becomes more severe, like a vice or clamp on
the head that is slowly being tightened.
- Usually involves *both* sides of
- May be felt as pressure or soreness behind
- May last for days, weeks, or longer. Some
patients claim never to be free of headache.
- Nausea and vomiting may occur if headache
becomes *very* severe.
In addition to pain, there are other problems
associated with a headache.
Consider for example: Depressed
Head pain can threaten marriages...
The head pain can: Jeopardize your job because of
absence of inefficiency...
The head pain can: Cause just plain "frustration"
by limiting normal activities. The list of problems
resulting from headache is never ending.
Headaches can be treated.
Your physician has available a variety of
effective means for dealing with your particular type of headache.
- Headache is one of the more difficult
ailments to evaluate.
- Answer all your doctor's questions
- It may take time to diagnose your
particular type of headache. So, be patient.
- Do not try to treat yourself.
- Follow your doctor's orders.
HEADACHES: Warning Signs/Triggering
Some of these tips might enable you to manage
headache occurrences better.
Just prior to a headache there are early
warning signs of its onset. If you can recognize early warning
signs in yourself and immediately take your medication you may
reduce headache intensity and shorten its duration. Some early
warning signs are listed below:
- Visual disturbances:
double vision, difficulty in
focusing, temporary partial blindness, dazzling
display of colored lights, spots or lines
- Tingling sensations
- Sensitivity to noise or light
- Irritability and tension
- Alterations in mood and outlook
- Feeling of exaggerated well-being
- Uncommon energy and vigor
- Unusual hunger; desire for snacks, etc.
- Feeling of weakness
- Difficulties in speaking
- Pains in neck or shoulders
- Blotchy patches on skin or rashes
- Noticeable increase in weight
- Unusual pallor, especially in children
- Swelling of fingers, waist or breasts
- Increase in frequency or volume of
Life style changes are often associated with
the cause of the headache. These triggering factors can cause
headache and if recognized and can be avoided might obviate the
impending headache. The list below gives some headache triggering
- Physical or mental fatigue
- Bending or stooping, as in gardening
- Lifting heavy weights or straining of any
- Change of routine, e.g., holidays, shift-work,
or change of job
- Late rising, especially at weekends or on
- Change of climate
- Changes in weather
- High winds
- Prolonged focusing on TV or movie screen
- Bright sunlight, bright artificial light
or glare of any kind; fluorescent light
- Very hot baths
- Noise, particularly loud and high pitched
- Intense odors or penetrating smells
- Certain foods, e.g., fried foods,
chocolate, citrus fruits, pastry and cheese
- Use of sleeping tablets
- Prolonged lack of food - fasting or
- Irregular meals
- Menstruation and the pre-menstrual period
- High blood pressure
- Continued use of oral contraceptives
- Toothache and other local pains in head or
Foods are also implicated in the cause of
headache and you may have already been suspect of a particular
food associated with previous bouts with head-ache. Avoiding it
may prove it was indeed the cause. Here is a list of foods
commonly implicated by headache sufferers and the causative
Food Causative Agent
Alcohol, particularly red wines and Histamine,
champagne tyramine Strong or aged cheese, especially: cheddar
Pickled herring Chicken livers Tyramine Canned figs Pods of broad
beans Chocolate Fish, especially smoked fish Dairy products Eggs
Unknown Wheat Nuts Tomatoes Cured meats - such as hot dogs,
bacon, Sodium ham, and salami nitrite Certain snack foods
Monosodium Chinese food glutamate
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