The many faces of headaches

woman holding her head in pain headache

Headaches are one of the most common health issues people will encounter in their lives. According to the World Health Organization, almost half of all adults in the world experience a headache at least once in the year. Since they are so common and often perceived as something trivial, headaches can pose a big burden on quality of life which may be all too easily overlooked and untreated. Here you can read about the different types of headaches, as well as their causes and treatments.

What is a headache?

A headache is defined as any kind of pain in the head, face, or neck. While the brain itself doesn’t have the structures to feel pain, other parts of the head which might experience a headache include:

  • Nerves in the scalp
  • Nerves in the face, mouth or throat
  • Muscles of the neck, head and shoulders
  • Blood vessels surrounding the brain

Types of headaches

Headaches can be categorised into two main types.

Primary headache

Primary headaches are situations where the headache is the main medical problem, and is not caused by another disease or condition. While they can be crippling and annoying, these headaches are not life threatening.

The most common types of primary headaches include:

  • Tension headaches can feel like a dull ache or tightness affecting the back of the head, the temple and forehead.
  • Unlike tension headaches, migraines can come with nausea or sensitivity to lights and sounds. They are usually located on one side of the head, and feel like a throbbing pain.
  • Cluster headaches are rare and intensely painful headaches that come in recurring bursts over a period, typically around one of the eyes. The pain is often accompanied by symptoms such as a drooping eyelid or watering eyes. They tend to have a shorter duration than the other types of headache, being only a few hours at most while tension headaches and migraines could last up to a few days.

Secondary headache

Secondary headaches are headaches which are the result of a different condition, such as sinusitis, high blood pressure, head injury, or psychiatric diagnoses. Although they are rarer than primary headaches, secondary headaches are important to diagnose since they can be more excruciating than regular headaches and could possibly be a warning sign of something life threatening.

Some possible causes of secondary headaches include:

  • Brain tumours
  • Neck or brain injury
  • Bacterial or viral infection of the brain
  • Medication overuse headache

Is your headache a medical emergency?

If you are having a headache which feels different from anything else you’ve experienced in your life, and it is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, it’s extremely important to seek help from a medical professional immediately.

  • Unusually excruciating pain
  • Stiff neck
  • Rash
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion or changes in personality
  • Impaired speech
  • Fever over 38°C
  • Fainting
  • Loss of motor control
  • Loss of vision

Ways to treat headaches

Treating tension headaches with our chiropractor

Because tension headaches are often caused by emotional stress or muscle tension, chiropractic care or massage therapy can be an effective source of relief. Our chiropractor will be able to locate any tense muscles or misalignments of the spine which may be causing a buildup of pressure on your nerves, contributing to your tension headache. A combination of chiropractic adjustment and remedial massage will help to release the muscle dysfunction responsible for your pain, combat your stress and resolve your tension headache. In addition to providing immediate relief, our chiropractor will also examine your posture and provide advice about your daily sitting and standing habits to lower your risk of future headaches.

Easing headaches with our naturopathic approach

In many cases, headaches can be caused by hormonal, nervous or chemical pathways in your body which aren’t working as well as intended. For example, it’s well known that a deficiency in serotonin can cause migraines. By examining your lifestyle and your history of symptoms, our naturopath can identify your particular type of headache and then prescribe herbal remedies, vitamins or stress reduction techniques to rebalance the function of your body, reducing your risk of headaches.

Preventing migraines with a tailored nutrition plan

For migraine sufferers, your head pain might be triggered by what you eat. Some of the dietary factors contributing to your headache could include:

  • Being dehydrated
  • Not enough sodium
  • Not enough potassium
  • Not enough calories during the day
  • Drinking alcohol, especially red wine
  • Drinking more than 2 cups of caffeinated beverages per day
  • Having citrus fruits
  • Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose
  • Eating chocolate
  • Eating ripened cheese
  • Eating meats and fish
  • Eating fried food
  • Eating food seasoned with monosodium glutamate
  • Having food or drink that is too cold
  • Fasting or eating inconsistently

Food triggers for migraine can vary greatly from person to person. By recording and analysing your eating habits, our nutritionist can help you to identify possible patterns and triggers related to your headache, so that you can enjoy eating and living in a worry-free way.

At Wholistic Health Centre, our whole team of chiropractors, naturopaths and nutritionists work closely together, bringing their full range of experience to create a tailored treatment for your specific pain. Book an appointment with us to find out how you can enjoy relief from your headaches today.

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