Headaches – Part One

Headaches are one of the most commonly experienced forms of pain. Everyone can relate to having a headache that distracts from work, interrupts family time or leaves you flat on your back in a dark room. In this series, we’re going to look at the various different types of  headaches (primary and secondary) and what you can do to help.

Tension headaches

Tension headache are the most common. They feel like a constant ache or pressure around the head, especially at the temples or back of the head and neck. Nowhere near as severe as migraines, they don’t usually cause nausea or vomiting, and they rarely interrupt daily routines.

They don’t throb. Tenderness or sensitivity around your neck, forehead, scalp, or shoulder muscles might occur. You may feel a dull, aching sensation all over your head.

Anyone can get a tension headache, and they’re often triggered by stress.

What to do about them

  • Manage stress- Do whatever it takes to de-stress. Breathing exercises, meditating, praying or spending time outdoors. Take a hot shower or bath. Lie down while applying ice packs to your neck or shoulders. Find time to relax and be joyful.
  • Watch your diet- Make sure you’re eating lots of anti-inflammatory foods such as broccoli, blueberries, cherries, green leafy veggies, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon.
  • Improve your posture- Poor posture can cause your shoulder, neck or scalp muscles to become tense, pinching nerves that can lead to headache pain. In order to improve your posture, make sure to hold your shoulders back and your head level, parallel to the ground, instead of hunching forward. If you have to sit for hours at a time, use a supportive chair that helps your muscles relax naturally, keeping your computer screen at eye level so your head isn’t slumping forward.

 

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches  occur in groups or cycles. They appear suddenly and are characterized by severe burning and piercing pain on one side of the head, and are often accompanied by a watery eye and nasal congestion or a runny nose on the same side of the face. They are more common in men than women. Occurring in a series, each individual headache can last from 15 minutes to three hours. Most people experience one to four headaches a day, usually around the same time each day, during a cluster. After one headache resolves, another will soon follow.

Cluster headaches can last for months at a time. They are more common in the spring and fall, although sufferers can go symptom free in between clusters. The cause of cluster headaches is unknown, but there may be a genetic component.

What to do about them

  • Supplementation- Usually people who suffer from cluster headaches have low levels of magnesium in their blood. Magnesium deficiency has been shown to be a key factor in exasperating the headaches. Eating magnesium rich foods such as spinach, yogurt, black beans, avocados, and bananas can benefit sufferers greatly. Also, taking a magnesium supplement would be a good idea. The same is true of vitamin B2 and melatonin. If you’re levels in those are down, chances are you could suffer from cluster headaches.
  • Get outdoors- Take in deep breaths of the highly oxygenated, natural air. Deep, rhythmic breathing allows more oxygen into the brain, relieving the pain during headache attacks and leaving the body at ease.
  • Be active- Daily exercise can reduce stress and boost blood circulation which has been proven to help relieve headache symptoms.
  • Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco- Alcohol and tobacco use can increase the frequency of cluster headache attacks and make the pain even worse. If you suffer from cluster headaches, avoid alcohol and tobacco, especially during a cluster period.

 

Migraines

Migraine headaches are three times more prevalent in women than men, and can run in families They are diagnosed using certain criteria:

  • At least five previous episodes of headaches
  • Lasting 4–72 hours
  • At least two out of four of these: one-sided pain, throbbing pain, moderate-to-severe pain, and pain that interferes with, is worsened by, or prohibits routine activity
  • At least one associated feature: nausea and/or vomiting, or, if those are not present, then sensitivity to light and sound

A migraine may be foreshadowed by aura, which can cause you to see:

  • Flashing or shimmering lights
  • zigzag lines
  • Stars
  • blind spots

What to do about them

  • Diet- Diet is a key component role in preventing migraines. Many foods and beverages are known to trigger migraines, such as:
    • foods with nitrates including hot dogs, deli meats, bacon, and sausage
    • Chocolate
    • Cheese that contains the naturally-occurring compound tyramine (blue, feta, cheddar, parmesan and swiss).
    • Alcohol, especially red wine
    • MSG
    • Extremely cold foods (e.g. ice cream or iced beverages)
    • Processed foods
    • Cultured dairy (e.g. buttermilk, sour cream and yogurt)
  • Ginger- Ginger is known to ease nausea caused by many conditions, including migraines. It may also have other migraine benefits. According to research, ginger powder decreased migraine severity and duration just  as well as the prescription drug sumatriptan, and with fewer side effects.
  • Magnesium- Once again, magnesium deficiency can be one of the culprits. Studies show magnesium oxide supplementation helps prevent migraines with aura. It may also prevent menstrual-related migraines. Make sure to include magnesium rich food in your diet, such as almonds, certain seeds and nuts, peanut butter, oatmeal, eggs, and milk to pack a powerful magnesium punch.
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