Silver Bulletin e-News Magazine
Section 4: Disease News & Information
Twenty million Americans see their doctors
each year because of a headache. Although headaches can be
very uncomfortable and temporarily disabling, most are not associated
with serious illness. They can often be relieved by resting
in a quiet room or by taking a nonprescription painkiller such as
ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Headaches are one of the most common
pain-related health problems in both children and adults. You may
have a headache along with another minor health problem such as
a sore throat, cold, or sinus problem.
When a person has a headache, several areas of
the head can hurt, including a network of nerves that extends over
the scalp and certain nerves in the face, mouth and throat.
Rarely, headache is a symptom of a dangerous condition
such cerebral aneurysm, brain tumor, stroke, TIA, meningitis, or
encephalitis. Very high blood pressure can cause headaches
and this situation is a medical emergency. However, high blood
pressure usually causes no symptoms at all, despite the damage that
years of high blood pressure can do to blood vessels, heart, brain,
and kidneys. If you have any doubt about your headache, contact
Basics of Headache:
The most common type of headache is "tension headache."
Tension headaches generally develop gradually, often involve the
entire head as well as the neck and shoulders. They probably
are not actually caused by increased muscle tension, although muscle
relaxation techniques can be very useful in treatment. Most
people get tension headaches occasionally and these can usually
be treated simply. Some people get them often, but there are
usually some useful interventions to help decrease the number of
Cluster headaches are headaches lasting minutes
to hours that occur day after day at a similar time over a period
of weeks. They are sharp. People with cluster headaches
often describe the pain as similar to an icepick.
They are more common in men, and are more difficult
to treat than most headaches. Interestingly, oxygen therapy
will often stop a daily cluster headache. Many of the medications
used to prevent or treat migraine headaches are used to treat cluster
Migraine headaches are "severe headaches."
With classic migraine, the headache is preceeded by a feeling that
a headache will develop (prodrome) followed by visual phenomena
such as dark or bright spots, streaks of light, or tunnel vision
(aura). The headache then develops, usually on one side.
It is throbbing in nature, accompanied by nausea and increased sensitivity
to light and noise.
Most people with migraine headaches do not experience
prodrome or aura. Common migraine headache, like classic migraine
headache is treatable and often preventable.
Migraineurs, those who develop migraine headaches
often have a family history of migraine headache and they have headache
triggers. People who get headaches when they don't have enough
of their daily caffeine are migraineurs. They would have fewer
migraines if they completely eliminated caffeine. Chocolate,
red wines, nuts and cheeses are common food triggers. Migraines
before or during menstrual periods are common. Not all migraineurs
get terrible headaches, but some certainly do. Migraine is an important
cause of lost days of school, work and enjoyment.
Sinus headaches are those frontal headaches that
some people experience with sinus infection and with changes in
the weather. Allergies can also provoke them.
Women who smoke and who experience migraine headaches
with aura have more than twice the risk of stroke if they take estrogen-containing
birth control pills than those who use nonestrogen-based contraception.
Changing to a nonestrogen or very low-estrogen contraceptive not
only can reduce the risk of stroke but can dramatically decrease
the number of headaches.
Common causes of headaches include:
- Alcohol, caffeine, or other drug use or withdrawal.
- Changes in the levels of chemicals in the body
- Coughing or sneezing.
- Dental problems or procedures, such as pain
from grinding the teeth or from a root canal.
- Eating or drinking cold foods and fluids.
- Emotional stress.
- Exposure to smoke or fumes from chemicals, including
- High altitude. Lower oxygen levels at high altitudes
can cause headaches.
- Medical procedures, such as the aftereffects
of a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
- Medications. Many medications can cause headaches.
- Muscle strain in the neck, upper back, or shoulder
Upper respiratory infections.
Other Health Conditions Associated to Headaches:
Other health conditions that can cause or contribute
to headaches include:
- Alcohol, caffeine, or drug abuse, overuse, or
- Fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread
muscle and soft tissue pain and tenderness.
- Glaucoma, an eye disease that damages the nerves
at the back of the eye.
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) or low blood
- Infection in the sinuses, such as sinusitis
or an abscess.
- Inflammatory problems , such as arthritis, lupus,
or temporal arteritis.
- Kidney disease, which causes wastes to build
up in the blood.
- Low calcium levels in the blood (hypocalcemia)
or overactivity of the gland that helps control the release of
calcium into the blood (hyperparathyroidism).
- Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by
certain types of ticks.
- Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.
- Problems with pregnancy, such as severe high
blood pressure (preeclampsia).
- Sleep problems, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.
Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Headaches With other Serious Symptoms:
Although rare, a headache may be a sign of a serious
illness. Other symptoms, such as vomiting, dizziness, or changes
in vision, may also be present. The following serious illnesses
or injuries can cause headaches.
- A head injury:
- Injury to the brain
- Fracture of the skull
- Bleeding in or around the brain
- Brain tumor, which causes swelling within the
- Infection in the brain (encephalitis) or of
the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).
- Stroke, a problem that occurs when a blood vessel
(artery) that supplies blood to the brain bursts or is blocked
by a blood clot.
A rupture of a blood vessel with bleeding in or
around the brain (aneurysm)
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