Understanding headaches: Types, triggers, prevention and cure

One of the most commonly reported medical problems — headaches are experienced by most of the people at least once in their lifetime. However, what’s often overlooked is the fact that headache is not a disease – it can be a symptom of other health problems as well. 

According to Dr Namita Kaul, Consultant Neurology, Vimhans Nayati Super Specialty Hospital, New Delhi, headaches can be classified into two types – primary and secondary. Primary or common headaches are disabling but not worrisome, and secondary headaches are symptoms of a bigger problem that needs immediate medical intervention.

Types of Headaches

Most commonly found kinds of recurrent, long-lasting and severe headaches are migraines and tension headaches, which could be triggered by sleep deprivation, gastric problems, stress, excessive medication, and imbalanced diet. Most people suffering from headaches tend to feel better simply by learning the ways to relax, undertaking some lifestyle changes, and if needed, taking medication. 

Among the most common primary headaches are:

  • Tension Pain – Feels like a band squeezing the head 
  • Migraine Pain – Typically accompanied with nausea and visual changes 
  • Cluster Pain – In and around the eyes 

Vulnerability to headaches

When it comes to vulnerability to headaches, a research has found that women are three times more prone to the condition than men. Women experience headaches that are longer and more painful. Of those who suffer from migraines, 50% have more than 1 attack each month, and 25% have 4 or more severe attacks per month. 85% of chronic migraine sufferers are women. 92% of women with severe migraine are disabled.

Hormones also have a relation with migraine in women. Several women find that their migraine symptoms are affected by hormonal contraception, pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause. There is also a high proportion of psychiatric comorbidity like anxiety or depression with migraine, addressing which in a holistic way is necessary. 

Recurring headaches

If your headaches are recurring, maintain a ‘headache diary’ to monitor their patterns and discover what might be causing or making them worse (the triggers).

Medical assistance for headaches

You should seek medical assistance if you are facing any of the following:

  • If there is a new onset of severe headache
  • If the usual headache grows more severe and/or becomes frequent
  • If your headaches are not well-controlled by the current medication 
  • If you are taking more than 4 painkillers in a month (their frequent use may make headaches worse)

Preventing headaches

Adjusting one’s lifestyle can help avoid headache triggers. Practicing yoga has proven to be a very effective way to relieve headaches. Pranayam early in the morning on an empty stomach helps release stress and keeps the brain active. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy diet, ensuring 7-8 hours of sleep and activities that can help de-stress, are the best ways to avoid headaches.

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