Health Checkup: Headaches

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10/1/2008

Often a stressful day can lead to a headache. However, not all headaches are caused by stress. Here are several of the most common types of headaches and what you can do to rid yourself of them.:

TENSION HEADACHE

This type of headache is described as an ache on both sides of the head. One may also experience an aching of the neck and shoulders.

The cause is usually stress, which results from someone tightening the muscles of the face and neck. Also, improper posture — such as sitting at your desk in a hunched over position — may cause tension in your neck and shoulders that can lead to a headache.

For occasional tension headaches, one can take over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil). Always follow the directions on the bottle for dosage. Also, exercises, massage and relaxation techniques often offer relief. If you have persistent daily headaches, then consult with your doctor.

EYE STRAIN HEADACHE

This type of headache is described as a mild pain in your forehead typically over the eye regions.

The cause is from straining your eyes due to working in insufficient light or from working at a computer for long periods of time. So, be sure to work in a well-lit area, and if you are working on a computer, be sure to take breaks to rest your eyes. Consider adjusting your monitor so that it is about one arm’s length in front of you, and consider increasing the font size. Sometimes, eyestrain indicates the need for eyeglasses, so be sure to have your eyes examined regularly. Over-the-counter pain relievers may help.

CLUSTER HEADACHE

This type of headache is described as an episode of intense, steady pain, often behind one eye or near the temple, lasting from 15 minutes to several hours. Other symptoms associated with this type of headache may include tearing and reddening of the eye, swelling of the eyelid, a runny nose with stuffiness and sweating around the head.

There is no known cause for cluster headaches, though they can be triggered by alcohol or food containing nitrates. They often occur at the same time every day and are more common during the spring and autumn months.

Generally, prescription medications are needed to prevent a cluster headache or stop one that is in progress. If you think you are experiencing cluster headaches, consult your doctor to confirm the diagnosis and receive proper medication.

MIGRAINE HEADACHE

The symptoms of a migraine headache are described as a throbbing pain on one or both sides of one’s head. The headache may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light and sound. The pain may last from several hours to several days. One may experience a warning or “aura” that a headache is coming, during which you may see bright lights or wavy lines.

The cause for a migraine is due to an initial constriction of blood vessels in the head, followed by dilation of these blood vessels. Various substances can trigger a migraine, including chocolate, alcohol, aged cheeses, and monosodium glutamate (often found in Chinese food).

One should see their doctor in order to confirm the diagnosis of a migraine headache, as well as determining if there is a particular food or situation that triggers the headaches, so that you may avoid them. Also, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat the headaches, since over-the-counter medications may not be effective.

Be sure to seek medical attention from your doctor if you are concerned about the intensity or recurrent pattern of a headache. Also headaches associated with fever, stiff neck or a change in alertness, require immediate medical attention.