THE A TO Z OF HEADACHES

Headaches can be classified as primary or secondary. Primary Headaches include migraine, cluster and tension Headaches. Secondary headaches are a symptom of an underlying disorder such as infection, tumour; hypertension or diseases of t he eyes, nose and throat.

Primary headaches include:

  • Migraine is a severe form of headache that lasts from 4 to 72 hours. Migraine attacks are usually unilateral (on one side only), involve moderate or severe pain and are pulsating. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting and avoidance of light (photophobia). Between 10 and 20% of Migraine sufferers experience what is called an ‘aura’. This is a sensation that warns them of a Migraine attack. An aura may be a visual sensation (e.g. blurred vision, flashing lights, and spots in front of the eyes), difficulty speaking or numbness or tingling sensations. Auras occur about one hour or less before the Migraine start s. Migraines can occur at any age but are usually the most troublesome from the late teens to 50’s.
  • Cluster headache occurs more often in men (6:1 ratio men to women), mostly in their 20’s and older and is more commonly seen in smokers. The condition has its name because typically cluster Headaches occur in bout s over a 6 to 12 week period, often at the same time each year. Over this period the cluster headache usually occurs daily, at the same time each day and lasts for approximately 30 to 60 minutes. The pain caused by a cluster headache is intense. Most of t en it occurs over one eye but can spread over a larger area of the head. The headache of ten begins with an itching or watery discharge from one nostril, followed by intense pain on the nostril-affected side of the head, which spreads around the eye.
  • Tension headache is a type of headache caused by stress or muscle tension in the neck, shoulders and head. The muscle tension which causes tension headache may be the result of being in an uncomfortable body position or fatigue. The pain is typically described as pressure or tightness, like a tight band or vice around the head that extends upwards from the neck.

Risk factors

Common triggers or risk factors for primary headaches include:

  • Anxiety and emotional upsets
  • Missing meals
  • Specific foods
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Hormonal changes caused by menstruation or menopause
  • Strenuous exercise

Treatment options

Always consult your Doctor for diagnosis and advice. In no way is this information intended to replace the advice of a medical practitioner.

In order to determine the cause of the headache, your GP will need to know how often the headache occurs, how long it lasts, how severe the pain is, what makes it better or worse and other symptoms experienced with the headache. Your Doctor may order certain tests to help with this assessment.

Treatment of primary headaches will depend on the type. Treatment of secondary headaches involves treating the underlying disorder.

Diet hints

Food sensitivities may contribute to the onset of headache in some people. Caffeine intake, for example, is linked with headaches. The withdrawal from regular caffeine consumption may also cause headaches. Cheese and chocolate have been linked to headaches, which may be due to their phenethylamine content.

Other food sensitivities linked with headaches include nitrate and nitrite-containing foods e.g. hot dogs and other luncheon meats, tyramine-containing foods e.g. aged cheeses, some red wines, fermented sausages, sour cream, vinegar and aspartame (artificial sweetener). Manipulation of dietary fatty acids may be a useful tool in the treatment of headaches. It has been shown that reducing the consumption of animal fats and increasing the consumption of fish can also play a beneficial role in headache control.

  • Eat a healthy diet. See the Healthy Eating Diet on the Healthpoint.
  • Eat regular meals – avoid skipping meals.
  • Limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume.

Vitamins/minerals/herbs

Vitamins and minerals may only be of assistance if dietary intake is inadequate:

  • Vitamin B6 is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which may be deficient in migraine sufferers.
  • Magnesium supplement at ion may be effective in alleviating migraine headaches and preventing tension and acute headaches.
  • Fish Oil may have an anti-inflammatory act ion.
  • Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) herb may be effective in reducing the severity, duration and frequency of migraines.
  • Cayenne may relieve migraine pain.
  • Willow bark may be an effective pain reliever. It contains salicin, the ingredient from which aspirin is derived.
  • Ginkgo may improve circulation to the brain and assist in the treatment of headaches.

Aromatherapy

These listed essential oils are suggested for the temporary relief of headache. The most specific oils are shown in capitals: Basil, BLUE CHAMOMILE, CHAMOMILE, Clary Sage, Eucalyptus, LAVENDER, Melissa, PEPPERMINT, Rosemary.

Notes

See your Doctor immediately if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Visual disturbances, in particular, a blind spot, tunnel vision, blurring of central vision or visual hallucinations.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Any speech difficulties, numbness, weakness or lack of coordination.
  • Severe throbbing neither or both temples, in conjunct ion with generalised joint and muscle pain.
  • A morning headache that is made worse by lying down but improves after an hour or two.
  • Headaches that are made worse by straining, coughing, sneezing or laughing.

Pharmacist’s advice

Ask your Pharmacist f or advice.

  1. Follow the Diet Hints.
  2. Avoid stress as far as possible.
  3. Lower the intake of caffeine. Caffeine is a common trigger for headache. Caffeine-containing drinks include tea, coffee and cola drinks.
  4. Use a cold pack on the forehead and rest in a darkened room. Your Pharmacist will help choose a cold pack.
  5. Ask your Pharmacist about some pain relieving products.
  6. Keep the bowels regular. Ask your Pharmacist f or advice on suit able fibre products.
  7. If he diet is inadequate, consider some supplements.
  8. Relief may be obtained by taking a warm bat h and adding some bath salts containing Epsom salts. This salt contains magnesium which is a muscle relaxant.