What are Headaches?
Despite the pain you’re feeling and the place it seems to originate, it’s not your brain that’s aching; it has no pain receptors. It’s the skin, muscles, and blood vessels that cover the skull and the nerves that run from your brain to your head and face that cause the discomfort we call a headache. Different types include tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches.
How do I know which type I have?
Each of the three major headache types has different symptoms and responds to different treatments. Here’s what you need to know about each…
Tension Headaches: Pain results from stress-related muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, and head. Researchers think that fluctuations in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which regulate the perception of pain, may also play a role.
Migraines: Nobody really knows what happens in migraine but there are a number of theories. It may be that during a migraine, the blood vessels in your head swell and press on nearby pain receptors. Fluctuations in levels of neurotransmitters may also play a role. Other possible triggers include hormonal changes that accompany menstrual periods (most migraine sufferers are women), oral contraceptives, changes in sleep patterns, skipping meals, changes in the weather, bright or flashing lights, excessive noise, stress, and some foods particularly chocolate, red wine, aged cheeses, and smoked meats. Your genes may also predispose you to getting migraines. Most people who get migraines have their first attack before age 30.
Cluster Headaches: Cluster headaches are much less common than tension headaches or migraines. They may be caused by swelling blood vessels in the head. Some researchers suspect that people get cluster headaches when they are not getting enough oxygen for some reason. Fluctuating neurotransmitter levels may play a role. Other suspected triggers include alcohol, cold or hot wind, high altitude, stress, and smoking. Cluster headaches occur most often in spring or autumn. Most sufferers are male.
High blood pressure, eye or sinus problems, and brain tumours or infections can also cause head pain in rare cases.
Of Tension Headaches…
• A dull ache frequently described as a vice-like squeezing of the head, sometimes accompanied by a stiff or sore neck
• Pain usually above the eyes or in the back of the head
• Usually moderate pain
• Pain may fade in and out over the course of a day or several days
• Mild to severe pulsing or throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head, that lasts from several hours to several days
• Pain usually gets worse if you move around or look at bright light or hear loud noise
• Pain often interferes with daily activities and may cause nausea or vomiting
• Headaches are sometimes preceded by visual changes called auras that are probably caused by the blood vessels constricting before they swell and thus reducing blood flow to the brain. During an aura you may lose your vision or see shimmering, jagged, or flashing lights or colours. Some people also feel nauseated or irritable right before a migraine begins
Of Cluster Headaches…
• Knife like pain limited to one side of the head, often in or around one eye, that usually lasts no more than an hour
• Headaches in clusters, either several times in one day or for several days in a row, with recurrences at the same time of day, usually for six to eight weeks at a time
• Night time onset, perhaps painful enough to wake you
• Tearing in the eye on the affected side, or redness or swelling around the eye, or a droopy eyelid
• A stuffy or runny nose along with the headache
Stay away from activities that strain your neck muscles, such as reading while looking down especially for tension headaches. You should also eat regular meals, get plenty of sleep, and avoid foods that trigger migraines for you.