Every once in a while, you must have experienced sharp, intense pain in your head or neck area. This throbbing pain is what we call a headache. Most people experience at least one headache in their life. They can affect anyone regardless of age, race, or gender. Their duration is highly variable, as they can last from several minutes to few weeks depending on the type of headache. As common as they are, we don’t know a lot about them.
Despite the common misconception, headaches don’t occur because your brain is hurting. In fact, it is your brain telling you that some other body part is damaged. Did you know that your brain does not have any pain receptors? So why do we get headaches? Even though the brain cannot feel any pain, the structures surrounding it are sensitive to pain. These can be your nerves, sinuses, arteries, veins, or the outer covering of the brain, meninges. Any inflammation or irritation of these structures causes the nerves surrounding the brain to send pain signals to it, which induces a headache.
More than 200 types of Headaches are known, but they are generally classified as primary or secondary headaches. Primary headaches occur in 90% of the population. They happen due to the overworking of muscles, inflammation of blood vessels and nerves, or a combination of these. Here the headache itself is the main problem. They occur episodically and are not related to any illnesses. Some of its examples include tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraines. Scientists are still figuring out the triggers behind these headaches. Tension headaches are localized to both sides of your head, whereas migraines can be on one or both sides.
Starting with the most common type of headaches, tension headaches. As per their name, tension headaches produce a sensation of tightness compressing around the head. They are triggered by daily life stressors and are associated with muscle tightness and tenderness. Many theories have been put forward to find the cause of these headaches ranging from spasms of blood vessels to the high sensitivity of the pain receptors. The pain associated with these is usually dull and goes away by itself.
Migraines are intense, throbbing, recurring headaches that can be very severe. Along with the pain, you can suffer other symptoms like nausea and sensitivity to light and sounds. Neurons get overexcited due to the increased brain activity, in turn causing an overload on the brain. This leads to hallucinations preceding the migraines, which we know as auras. Up to 20% of people may experience an aura before they encounter a migraine. The variation in brain activity triggers an aura. They are different from person to person and may be experienced as flashing lights, numbness, or tingling sensations.
On the other hand, Cluster headaches are described as a stabbing or burning pain behind the eyes. Their pain can last from weeks to months, and it is one of the worst types of headaches. They can also cause swelling of the eyelid and forehead.
Secondary headaches are related to an underlying illness. It is a symptom of the disease which can trigger the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. They can be caused by brain tumors, aneurysms, or sinus diseases. Dehydration, hangover, and heart diseases can also lead to such headaches. Still, they are not as common as the primary headaches.
Consider watching this video to know more about 5 ways to avoid headaches…
Tense muscles or inflamed, sensitive nerves can cause various headaches depending on the level of discomfort. A hormone called Serotonin makes the blood vessels of your head to swell, increasing their blood flow. This dilation stimulates the nearby nerve cells, and in turn, they send pain signals to the brain. Sudden spasms of blood vessels can cause a headache too. This sometimes happens when you have ice cream. The arteries at the roof of your mouth first constrict when they encounter the cold ice cream and then dilate when they warm up again, giving you a brain freeze.
You may also experience a headache if you skip your morning coffee. According to research, this happens due to increased blood flow due to the lack of caffeine in your body. The dilation and constriction of the blood vessels is what causes the pain. Stress, your environment, and genetics also play a role in causing headaches. Relaxing after stress leads to a decrease in the stress hormone levels and a rapid influx of neurotransmitters, which are messengers of your nervous system, and can cause a headache. Muscle tightness of your head and neck when you’re angry can also cause a headache. Post hangover headaches are due to the dehydration caused by alcohol consumption. When you consume alcohol, it does not let your body produce an essential hormone called vasopressin, which is responsible for reabsorbing water in your kidneys. This leads to excess urination after a night of drinking, and you wake up with a throbbing post hangover headache. Your body, desperate for water, starts stealing water from your brain, causing it to shrink a little. You can manage such headaches by choosing not to drink and rehydrating with plenty of fluids.
The best prevention is to recognize and avoid triggering factors. Tension and most secondary headaches can be easily treated with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin. The best way to deal with them is just to relax. Some studies have shown that yoga or deep breathing exercising can help lower stress levels.
Until Next Time,
Team Doctor ASKY!