Health Magazine

Headaches Can Be a Real, Well, Headache

Posted on the 28 September 2011 by Nerdywerds @NerdyWerds

Headaches are a real pain in the neck, and head actually

I've got to be frank, I had no intention of writing an article today. When I woke up this morning I had a headache that could put down a rhino. It was one of those debilitating headaches that actually made me feel nauseous. Once I'd gotten about 2 grams of aspirin in me and had a nap, I began thinking about how headaches actually work. I've yet to meet anyone that hasn't experienced a headache, and if you haven't you should play the lottery or something. Some estimates report that more than 40 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches every year. And between these people and the normal people that get an occasional headache, it is believed that headaches cost about $50 billion a year.

I probably don't have to explain what headaches feel like; I'm fairly sure we've all had them. The one that had me on the ropes this morning was a throbbing around my left temple. Medically, a headache is pain that is sensed by the nerves and muscles of the head or neck, as well as the meninges. Meninges are the membranous coverings of the brain and spinal cord. Contrary to the belief of some, a headache is not your brain hurting; your brain can not sense pain. A headache is actually pain n the general neighborhood of your brain, being sensed by the nerve endings in your head.

Doctors classify headaches into two fairly broad categories: primary and secondary.

  • A primary headache is not associated with any underlying medical condition. It's just a pain that occurs naturally through the course of daily life.

  • A secondary headache, as you might suspect, is associated with some other medical condition. These can include infections, head injuries, tumors, intracranial pressure(pressure inside the skull) or sinuses.

Since secondary headaches really need the trained attention of a doctor, we aren't really going to talk much more about them. Primary headaches, however, seem to have three main causes:

  • Migraine - Migraines can be brought on by reduced blood flow to areas of the cerebral cortex. If you have a migraine, you may be experiencing sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, throbbing pain located on one side of the head and vomiting. Researchers believe serotonin may be involved in the migraine discussion, since many migraine drugs alter the binding of serotonin to receptors. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is often associated with feeling good. It appears to produce happiness, and an imbalance in serotonin levels leads to depression.

  • Tension - A tension headache is caused by, as you might have surmised, muscle strains in the head and neck or stress. They are typically discernible from migraines because they are usually dull, steady pains on both sides of your head. On occasion, tension headaches can develop into throbbing pains, and this fact is leading researchers to think tension headaches could in fact be closely related to migraines. This is the type of headache most people with poor eye sight experience, as the strain can trigger them.

  • Cluster - Cluster headaches are a series of headaches that occur repeatedly over a period of days, weeks or even months. They produce pain that generally occurs on one side of the head and is centered around the eye. Their causes are unknown, but are suspected to be related to changes in blood flow. Substances that affect blood flow, like alcohol and caffeine, can trigger cluster headaches.

Speaking of caffeine, have you ever experienced a caffeine headache? Without giving the entire story about how caffeine works, caffeine actually reduces blood flow to the brain. So when you go cold turkey on your caffeine habit, the blood flow to your brain picks up significantly. This increase can lead to a gnarly headache, just ask anyone that's had one. If you are prone to this kind of headache, you should look for a pain reliever with caffeine, or just keep some soda of coffee in the house.

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