Everyone has suffered a headache at some point in their lives – and they’re not fun. It is one of the most common forms of pain that stems from the central nervous system, and is often the main reason why people miss school or work.
The National Headache Foundation estimates that around 28 million Americans suffer from migraines alone.
Types Of Headaches
Headaches can be caused from a variety of reasons. The main reasons are stress, poor diet, and posture. Poor diet often leads to vascular problems like high blood pressure, inflammation and toxic overload, and stress and posture can cause tight muscles and lots of tension that can trigger a headache almost immediately.
Here are six types of headaches one can experience:
1. TMJ Headache: caused by problems with the jaw, jaw joint, and lower facial muscles. It can be triggered by teeth grinding or clenching (especially at night), tension in the jaw, dislocation of the jaw joint or arthritis. This pain can also spread upwards towards the cheeks, temples, and ears, or downwards to the neck and shoulder (1).
2. Sinus Headache: occurs when the sinuses become blocked or inflamed. The pain can be felt behind the cheeks, nose and eyes, and can get worse when you bend forward or just wake up. Common causes include allergic reactions, infection, or less likely, a tumour. Symptoms can very closely resemble those of a migraine (2).
3. Cluster Headache: a very sharp, painful headache that can come on and off several times a day for months, followed by headache-free periods that last up to 6 months. The pain is accompanied by bloodshot eyes and a runny nose, and comes with very little warning. It typically affects only one side of the head, and areas include above the eye and near the temples. These headaches last less than an hour and come around the same time each day (3).
4. Tension Headache: often caused by stress and anxiety, which can cause tight muscles in the shoulders, neck and jaw. The headache causes pressure, pulling, and contractions that affect your temples, face and scalp. It can last a few minutes, to a few days, and can be triggered by lack of sleep, missed meals, stressful situations, heavy emotions, or alcohol.
5. Neck Headache: these headaches stem from pain in the neck and shoulder blades, however you perceive the pain as originating in the back of your head or at the base of your skull. The best way to get relief is to fix the underlying cause, whether that be a pinched nerve, muscle knots, muscle damage, abnormal bone growths, tissue swelling, joint problems, or less likely, tumours. Relief can be found through massage, acupuncture, physiotherapy and chiropractic (4).
6. Migraine: severe throbbing or a pulsing sensation that is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise. These can occur anywhere for minutes to hours at a time. Some people may experience visual hallucinations, like “aura’s” or dots and flashing lights, or disruptions in smell, touch, taste and numbness. Once they are gone, migraines can leave, making the individual feel tired or unable to concentrate (5).
When To Talk To Your Doctor
A chronic, persistent headache that simply won’t go away can also be a sign of something more serious, such as:
• Bleeding in the area between the brain and the thin tissue that covers the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage)
• High blood pressure
• Brain tumour
• Sleep apnea
• Infection in the brain, or tissue that surrounds the brain, such as meningitis or encephalitis, or abscess
• Carbon monoxide poisoning
• Swollen, inflamed artery that supplies blood to part of the head, temple and neck area (temporal arteritis)
• Build up of fluid inside the skull that leads to brain swelling (hydrocephalus)
• Build up of pressure inside the skull that appears to be, but is not a tumour (pseudomotor cerebri)
• Problems with the blood vessels and bleeding in the brain, such as arteriovenous malformation (AVM), brain aneurysm, or stroke
If you happen to experience any of the symptoms listed below, seek medical assistance immediately:
– Your headache comes on suddenly, and is explosive or violent
– This is the first severe headache you’ve ever had in your life and it interferes with your daily activities
– You develop a headache after activities like weightlifting, aerobics, jogging, or sex
– Your headache is “the worst ever,” even though you regularly get headaches
– Your headache gets worse over 24 hours
– Your headache occurs with a head injury
– You also have fever, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting with your headache
– You also have slurred speech, a change in vision, problems moving your arms or legs, loss of balance, confusion, or memory loss with your headache
– Your headache is severe and just in 1 eye, with redness in that eye
– You just started getting headaches, especially if you are older than 50
– You have a history of cancer and develop a new headache
– You have headaches along with vision problems and pain while chewing or weight loss
– Your immune system is weakened by disease (like HIV infection) or by medicines (like chemotherapy drugs and steroids)
How To Naturally Treat Headaches
If you do get headaches often, it can often be linked to foods that you eat that trigger the headache response. If your headaches are chronic, and you’re eating the same foods every day, it could simply be a matter of changing up your diet to see if the issue goes away.
If you’re someone who often reaches for the tylenol, trying out some natural methods might do your body some good. These drugs can sometimes trigger “rebound headaches”, where regular use of these medications can actually begin to trigger headaches. Steering clear of them is sometimes the best thing you can do.
Instead, ensuring you are getting adequate nutrients is important. People who experience headaches and migraines often have low magnesium levels, and studies have shown that increasing magnesium can actually reduce the frequency of these headache and migraine attacks. Taking a magnesium supplement throughout your day (make sure to get one in glycinate form – “magnesium glycinate (bisglycinate)” – around 120mg 4x a day. Pure Encapsulations makes a great magnesium supplement).
Anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric and ginger are also helpful to reduce the inflammation that often triggers headaches and makes them stick around.
Foods that cause inflammation should also be avoided. These things include dairy, refined sugar, soy, wheat, GMO corn, fried foods, and red meat.
Drinking plenty of water (2-3 litres a day), getting lots of sleep (8-9 hours a night), practicing stress reduction techniques (like yoga and mindful breathing), and getting outside in the fresh air is also important to help reduce the occurrence of headaches.
If you still experience intense headaches after this, consult with a naturopath, and they should be able to get you on the right track.