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.
QUIZ: How Much Pain Do You Have?
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.
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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.
You can assist a doc by ID-ing your headache triggers. Keep a headache log that has the date, time and what you did and ate for the preceding 48 hours. If you menstruate, note what time your cycle occurred.The three most common primary headaches are:
If you’ve experienced a migraine, you already know that it can feel like the gray matter of your brains is going to ooze out of your head. This is the disabling mother of all headaches. It may come with add-ons of nausea, tingling in your limbs, an aura (light flashes), an ammonia smell or tingling beforehand.Migraines occur in 17 percent of women and 6 percent of men. There are many links to migraines: stress, coffee, chocolate, medicine, a change in sleeping pattern or weather.
The two greatest triggers are food and hormones. Dietary culprits include aspartame, MSG (monosodium glutamate), nitrates, aged cheese, chocolate and alcohol (especially red wine and beer).There actually appears to be survival value to migraines. People who get them tend to be meticulous and acutely aware of their environments. This makes them extra sensitive to pain and everything around them. Way back when, it came in handy when people could use their sixth sense to intuit whether predators or dangers were threatening their tribe.Today, it seems that many women have migraines when there’s a fluctuation of estrogen. This happens before or after their periods, during the first trimester of pregnancy, postpartum and perimenopause.Great sex is reported to make migraines better, if you feel good enough for it!
Nine out of 10 women (and seven out of 10 men) experience a tension headache during their lives. It’s one of the most common pains around. The good news: It’s usually not there all the time and it’s usually mild to moderate, compared to migraine pain.
It used to be thought that tension headaches came from muscle tension. Now it’s believed that these headaches happen with fluctuations in endorphins and serotonin, which activate pain pathways in the brain.These headaches have a ton of triggers: stress, bad posture, clenching your teeth, medications, being sluggish and skipping meals and sleep. Isolate these triggers so you can pinpoint the cause and avoid it.
The least common of major headaches comes with little warning, and in bunches. The pain is sharp, burning and excruciating within minutes. Some people describe it as a hot poker in the eye.Lovely, we know. The pain may come with excessive tearing, stuffy or running nose, red eye and sweating. This is because the neurologic cacophony of the cluster headache often switches on your autopilot nervous system.
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