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What Does Your Headache Reveal About Your Overall Health?

| Reviewed By Arya Krishnan

Be it a sudden throb or a constant pain, headaches can be quite agonizing and make it difficult for you to function normally. Headaches are one of the most common disorders affecting the nervous system, where studies point out that almost half of the global adult population is affected by headache.

It is not the intensity of the pain but the pain itself, which causes you to give up carrying out even the simplest of tasks. The most common types of headaches are migraines, tension headaches and sinus headaches.

Headaches can be caused by various reasons including diet, level of hydration, work and home environments, as well as your overall health. In most cases, headaches are relatively harmless, however, in some cases, it can an indication of severe health problems such as stroke, brain tumour or aneurysm.

Studies have pointed out that the type of headaches you get is an indication of your health problems. That is, the types can reveal the root causes which could be impacting your overall health [1] . In the current article, we will take a look at the relation between the types of headache and what it reveals about your health.

Types Of Headache

Below is a brief explanation of the different types of headaches that can affect you [2] [3] [4] .

  • Tension headaches: The most common type of headache, tension headaches cause a constant ache or pressure around the head or a headache in the back of the head or neck. They are not severe in nature but can be irritating and may limit you from carrying out your day to day activities.
  • Cluster headaches: These affect men more than women and occur in groups or cycles. Cluster headaches recur regularly, even multiple times daily.
  • Sinus headaches: This type of headaches usually develop when the sinus becomes inflamed due to an infection. Sinus headaches are often accompanied by a fever and symptoms like sinus pressure, nasal congestion, and watery eyes.
  • Rebound headaches: These headaches are caused due to the overuse of headache painkillers. Studies point out that excess of medication can cause your brain to shift into an excited state, triggering more headaches.
  • Migraine headaches: Increasingly reported in women, the cause of migraine headaches is not clear. However, the causes have been linked with genes and brain cell activity.
  • Dental headaches: Certain dental-related conditions such as bruxism (a.k.a., teeth-grinding) and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) can trigger dental headaches.
  • Caffeine headaches: When you reduce your daily number of coffees, you are more likely to develop caffeine headaches. The sudden and abrupt drop in the level of caffeine can trigger headache and cause discomfort.
  • Orgasm headaches: As the name suggests, orgasm-induced headaches are caused by orgasms. They usually start shortly after intercourse begins and end in a "thunderclap" headache at the climax.
  • Early-morning headaches: This can be caused by various reasons and underlying health problems such as night medications, sleep apnoea etc.
  • Ice cream headache: Usually termed as brain freezes, ice-cream headaches can develop when you drink an icy cold drink or treat on a hot day. Individuals with migraines are increasingly prone to it and this type of headache is medically termed as sphenopalatine ganglion neuralgia.
  • Chronic daily headaches: If you have a headache at least fifteen days per month for more than three months you're considered to have chronic daily headaches. Chronic daily headaches could be caused by overuse of pain medications, head injury, or in rare cases, meningitis or tumours.
  • Menstrual headaches: The sudden drop in oestrogen right before your period can sometimes trigger migraines. These can develop between three days before and two days after your period has started.
  • Weekend headaches: Suspected to be caused by oversleeping on weekend mornings, going to bed later at night, or caffeine withdrawal, weekend headaches can also develop when your stress levels are high throughout the week.
  • Emergency headaches: While most headaches are not considered to be an emergency, few symptoms such as a fever or extreme rise in blood pressure require immediate medical attention.

The Link Between Headaches And Your Health

Out of the aforementioned headaches, the most common ones linked with one's overall health are tension headache, migraine and sinus headaches. Let us take a look at the way these are linked to your overall health [5] [6] .

1. Tension headaches

The constant throbbing pain, which is one of the most common types of headache, tension headache pain is constant, concentrating around the temples or near the back of the head and neck. The pain may be felt above and below the eyes as well. Studies and health experts link tension headaches to stress and anxiety, which causes your neck and scalp muscles to contract. It is common for severe tension headaches to be mistaken for migraines.

Tension headaches can be managed by consuming ginger tea, as it helps in reducing the inflammation and hence the associated pain. Applying two to three drops of peppermint oil to the hairline can also help as it relaxes the muscles around the head and neck, which further alleviates the pain.

2. Sinus headaches

An indication of unhealthy lifestyle habits, sinus headaches are caused by issues surrounding your sinus area such as behind the nose's bridge and inside the forehead or cheekbones. When these areas become inflamed due to allergic reaction or infection, the paths to drain mucus from the sinus become blocked - causing severe pain and headache.

With the central causes of sinus headache being allergies and infections, the pain related to this can elevate due to inadequate hydration. Unhealthy drinking habits and lack of proper water consumption can trigger a sinus infection. Studies have pointed out that drinking plenty of fluids is important to the alleviation of sinus headaches. Sinus inflammation may be reduced by drinking warm water or tea [7] . Overuse of medications is also linked to sinus headaches.

You can also chew on small fresh ginger as it has anti-inflammatory and painkilling properties, which can be beneficial for this type of headache.

3. Migraine

One of the most common types of headaches, migraine affects more than 40 million people globally. Pain experienced during a migraine is severe and recurring and can cause pain on both sides of your head. It is common for migraine pain to radiate from the top of your head and move downward [8] . Migraines have the worst symptoms of it all such as dizziness, sensitivity to sound and light, visual disturbances, tingling and numbness of the face, along with nausea and vomiting [9] .

Genetics and environmental factors may play a role in one's susceptibility to the condition. A diet lacking in proper nutrition and overconsumption of processed and salty foods are some of the primary causes leading to migraine. Apart from these, unhealthy sleep patterns and overconsumption of medication may also trigger a migraine episode[10] .

Consuming B12 vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help alleviate migraine pain.

On A Final Note...

For most of us, an occasional headache is nothing more than a temporary speed bump in the course of a busy day. However, it is important that you seek medical advice for your headaches and adopt a healthy lifestyle, incorporating a healthy diet and exercise.

View Article References
  1. [1] English, S. W., & Nasr, D. M. (2019). Thunderclap Headache and Cerebral Vasoconstriction Secondary to Pheochromocytoma. JAMA neurology, 76(4), 502-503.
  2. [2] Moye, L. S., Tipton, A. F., Dripps, I., Sheets, Z., Crombie, A., Violin, J. D., & Pradhan, A. A. (2019). Delta opioid receptor agonists are effective for multiple types of headache disorders. Neuropharmacology, 148, 77-86.
  3. [3] Grant, J., Nazarian, A., & Eshraghi, Y. (2019). Other Types of Headache. In Pain (pp. 561-565). Springer, Cham.
  4. [4] Azizi, H., Shojaii, A., & Ghods, R. (2019). Investigation on the Chronic Tension-Type Headache from the Persian Medicine. GMJ, 8, e1591.
  5. [5] Hueso, M. P., Piñero, M. R., Velasco, E. M., García, A. J., & Peral, A. G. (2019). Headache in young patients: clinical characteristics of a series of 651 cases. Neurología (English Edition), 34(1), 22-26.
  6. [6] Rapoport, A. M., & Edvinsson, L. (2019). Some aspects on the pathophysiology of migraine and a review of device therapies for migraine and cluster headache. Neurological Sciences, 40(1), 75-80.
  7. [7] Karlı, N., & Öksüz, N. (2019). International Headache Management in Pregnancy and Lactation. In Peripheral Interventional Management in Headache (pp. 69-78). Springer, Cham.
  8. [8] Boardman, H. F., Croft, P. R., & Millson, D. S. (2019). Headaches, self-care and health care seeking behaviour: a pilot study. Prevention, 10, 00.
  9. [9] Trost, S. E., Seipel, M. T., Kalscheur, E. J., & Anderson, R. C. (2019). Refractory Headache or Refractory Patient? Issues of Locus of Control in Chronic Daily Headache (CDH). In Chronic Headache (pp. 11-24). Springer, Cham.
  10. [10] Roshal, D. A., Dunn, J. P., & Xu, D. (2019). A Woman in Her 40s With Transient Neurological Symptoms, Migraine Headaches, and Hearing Loss. JAMA neurology, 76(4), 504-505.
Arya KrishnanEmergency Medicine
Arya Krishnan
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