Some headaches are so debilitating they send you to bed. Others are just annoying enough to prevent you from having fun once you’re in the bedroom.
Headaches can range greatly on the pain scale, but they all share one trait: They drag you down. No one looks healthy or feels beautiful when they’re gripping their temples.
So, pop some pain pills and hope the pounding stops? That’s not the best action plan. Ever wonder exactly what headaches are? Let’s look at the main types and causes of headaches.
Much of the biology of headaches stems from the trigeminal nerve. This comes directly from the brain and divides it into three branches to cover the face. There are many triggers that can stimulate irritation and inflammation of this nerve and surrounding tissue. This erupts into the pain we sense as a headache.
Another cause is the dilation of blood vessels. Too-large blood vessels can be painful themselves, by allowing various chemicals to ooze slowly out of the vessels and seep into the tissue around and in the brain. This causes inflammation.
About 15 percent of us are born with a small hole in our heart called a patent foramen ovale (PFO). If this hole doesn’t close, blood shunts past the lungs to the brain. To close the hole, a doctor uses a catheter threaded from the groin, in which an umbrella-shaped device is fed through the body and covers the hole. Or the hole closes naturally.
Your lungs detoxify and clear irritating chemicals out of your blood. Without going through a detoxification process in your lungs, those chemicals can go straight to your brain, triggering headache pain by dilating brain arteries.
During a headache, the feel-good chemical serotonin drops. This can cause the trigeminal nerve to release neuropeptides, which cause blood vessels to dilate and inflame. Serotonin levels elevate when a migraine starts. The levels then drop, making you more sensitive to the pain.
Migraine meds mimic serotonin, or block its re-uptake, so cells can use it more effectively. They also inhibit the release of neuropeptides, to prevent the blood vessel dilation.
It’s important to identify your headache properly. They come in lots of forms, so knowing which kind you have helps you stop it, and prevent it from reoccurring.
First thing’s first: make sure you don’t have a secondary headache. This is a headache that’s not the problem itself, but a sign of another potential health problem, such as very high blood pressure, sinus problems, stroke, infection, temporomandibular joint problems, a hole in your heart, a brain tumor or an aneurysm.
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