Headaches/Migraines – How to help yourself
Headaches and migraines are one of the most common medical complaints. It is estimated that 6 million people suffer from migraines in the UK. A headache is A headache is the occurrence of pain anywhere in the head or neck. There are different types of headache such as a migraine which consists or sharp or throbbing pains, or you can suffer from tension or cluster headaches.
There can be several reasons why someone might suffer with a headache, but they fall under two categories primary or secondary headaches.
Primary headaches are headaches that aren’t a result of another medical condition. They can be caused by many factors that you may be able to prevent by determining the cause. A primary migraine can be so severe that it is considered the sixth highest cause of people missing work due to an illness worldwide.
Secondary headaches occur when there is an underlying illness, this type of headache will need to be addressed by a doctor. This can include sinus headaches, headaches from illnesses such as meningitis or a post-traumatic headache which would arise after a traumatic event or accident.
Headaches can affect everyday activities as the sufferer struggles to function. Choosing to treat you headache with rest and pain relief can temporarily ease the pain but addressing lifestyle issues may prevent them from occurring in the first place. A nice mnemonic to consider is SEEDS – these are factors which may influence when and why you get a headache.
- Eating Habits
There is an abundance of evidence linking irregular sleep patterns to headaches. It has been shown that people who get an average of six hours or less sleep per night suffer more frequent and severe headaches than people who get more. This is because lack of sleep can trigger ‘migraine’ proteins p38 and PKA which regulate the response in facial nerves. These proteins can occur at high enough levels to cause pain in stressful situations like sleep deprivation.
Many studies show a lack of exercise can also cause frequent headaches. People who are inactive are far more likely to suffer from headaches then people who work out. Regular exercise relieves stress and gets endorphins flowing. Endorphins are chemicals the body releases and are natural painkillers. As well as releasing these chemicals exercise can relieve body stress and muscle tension.
Maintaining a stable blood sugar profile is important in controlling your headaches. Sugar has a direct effect on the brain and nervous system via your blood glucose level. After consuming sugar, the glucose gives your body energy by entering the blood stream. However, the fluctuation of your glucose level can affect your brain and give you a headache. It is important to eat regular meals and not let yourself get too hungry.
It is important to make sure you drink enough water generally but especially while you exercise as dehydration is also a common cause of primary headaches. When the body doesn’t have enough fluid, the brain can temporarily contract and shrink which causes headaches. This is because the shrinking causes the brain to pull away from the skull which triggers the pain receptors around the brain, resulting in a headache.
Headaches are more likely to occur when you are stressed, in fact emotional stress in one of the most common cause of migraine headaches. However, daily stress from something like a high-pressure job can lead to chronic tension headaches. Tension in the head and neck can then trigger other types of headaches like migraine and make them worse.
Often these lifestyle factors go hand in hand. For example; stress may affect your sleep which leads to tiredness which makes work difficult which causes stress which effects your sleep and so the cycle goes on. The more of these lifestyle factors that you can address all at once, the more likely they will help reduce the frequency and severity of your chronic headaches.
Along with the SEEDS, regular treatments such as Osteopathy, Massage and Acupuncture may help to reduce stress and tension in your body.
If you are suffering from regular headaches, even if you have been checked medically in the past, it’s good to have regular screenings to make sure there aren’t any new factors to consider. Also, if your headaches change in nature, don’t assume it’s all part of the same pattern, consult your doctor.