Cause: Overuse of over-the-counter pain relievers for headaches, overuse of aspirin and prescription drugs. It is believed that overmedication causes the brain to shift into an excited state which triggers more headaches. These could also be a symptom of withdrawal, as the level of medicine drops in the bloodstream.
Signs: They occur early in the morning, improve with pain relief medication but return when the effect wears off and worsen with mental exertion. It can be accompanied by anxiety and depression.
Treatment: The head-aches often get worse before they get better. You have to therefore first withdraw the offending medication. Doctors often prescribe treatments to reduce headache pain and the side effects of drug withdrawal.
Cause: Considered as the most common type of headache in the population, it’s triggers can be emotional stress, anxiety, bad posture and jaw clenching. Experts believe it is due to altered brain chemicals or mixed signals in the nerves that lead to the brain. It is believed that seven out of 10 people will face this type of headache in their life (source: New England Center for Headache).
Signs: People feel a constant ache or pressure on both sides of the head, at the back of the head and neck. There are no accompaniments to this headache.
Treatment: De-stressing can help, opt for a massage. It can also be treated with over-the-counter pain medicine such as aspirin.
Cause: Migraine headaches are often mistaken for sinus headaches. Sinuses are cavities in the skull that are filled with air. Sinuses get inflamed when the drainage system gets filled up, giving a runny nose, fever and pain.
Signs: Like a migraine headache it has symptoms such as pressure on the sinus, nasal congestion and watery eyes. A sinus headache is accompanied with nasal discharge. There is also a constant pain in the cheekbones and forehead. It often intensifies due to sudden movement.
Treatment: They can heal with time and antibiotics can help as well (if it’s caused by infection). You can also use a saline nasal spray.
Cause: They are termed as cluster as they occur together at a stretch (weeks and months) and can disappear as well for months and years. It affects more men than women. The exact cause is unknown but it worsens with alcohol, cigarettes and high altitudes. During an attack, the hypothalamus is believed to stimulate a nerve pathway along the base of the brain to cause pain in the eyes and blood vessels on the surface of the brain to swell.
Signs: It is an intense but short-lived headache (also called Suicidal Headache) where a person feels a throbbing and constant piercing sensation. The pain is felt behind the eyes, there can be watery eyes and nasal congestion as well.
Treatment: Specific medication can relieve the duration of the pain and frequency of the headache. Cut out drinking and smoking.
Cause: These are usually more common among women than men. Genetic factors are often at play and brain cell activity can also affect blood vessel and nerve cell function. A common trigger could be a hormonal imbalance, stress, change in sleeping and eating patterns. The drop in estrogen before the menstrual period can also trigger migraines. It is caused by an inflammation of blood vessels and arteries around
Signs: People experience nausea, high blood pressure, heightened sensitivity, slow digestion, throbbing pain around the temple and flashes of light.
Treatment: While there aren’t fixed treatments, there are anti-inflammatory drugs as well as long-term preventive drugs that reduce the swelling of blood vessels on the brain, and help you cope with the attacks and reduce the symptoms.
The quirky headaches...
Orgasm headaches are rare and are experienced by men after intercourse.
Early Morning headaches are experienced by people who wake up early.
Ice Cream headaches are felt when consuming a cold drink. The cold sensation on the roof of the mouth leads to a spurt in blood flow to one of the brain’s arteries causing the headache.
Weekend headaches are caused by oversleeping on weekend mornings, going to sleep late at night or being stressed all week.
Acidity headaches are caused due to absorption of toxic elements from the colon or overeating of oily food.
Dr K Ravishankar, Specialist in Headache Medicine at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre and the Lilavati Hospital and Research Centre, has been one of the pioneers in headache research. He also runs
The Headache and Migraine Clinic at Sion. He states that migraines are the most common cause of headaches and it’s often misdiagnosed as a refractive eye disorder or sinusitis. “The reason behind headaches is a hyperexcitable brain under the influence of triggers which sends signals to the pain pathways that pass through the fifth cranial nerve.
When the nerve terminals get stimulated, there is a release of neuropeptides which dilate the blood vessels. The pain signal is then sent to the thalamus or the pain area of the brain, thus causing a headache.” Dr Ravishankar adds that lifestyle plays an important role in triggering headaches: “People can have a genetic vulnerability to migraine headaches but it’s also the environment — factors such as not eating on time, exposure to the sun, change in weather, exposure to the air-conditioner blast, fasting, certain food items like cheese, chocolate or colas, emotional stress or stressful travel (all mostly experienced in metros) can trigger headaches.”
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