Headache pain does not arise from the bones of the skull or the tissues of the brain. Headache pain is generally caused by the stimulation of nerve fibers to the brain or other parts of the head. Headaches often occur when stress, muscle tension, or stretching blood vessel walls trigger the release of chemicals which in turn stimulate the nerve fibers. These stimulated nerve fibers relay impulses to the brain where they are transmitted into the perception of pain.
Types of Headaches
There are many categories of headaches including:
- Tension Headaches - Generally caused by involuntary contractions of the muscles of the scalp, jaws, face, or neck. Pain is often a steady, dull ache, descried as a vice-like sensation around the temples. Onset of pain is usually gradual.
- Vascular Headache - Due to dilation or widening of the arteries of the brain. Throbbing or pounding pain often accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting. Most common vascular headaches are migraines and cluster.
- Migraine Headache - Often a warning of approaching headache such as blurred vision, flashing light, or tingling of the face and hands. Often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, and may be triggered by foods such as aged cheese, alcohol, or cured meat. May occur with stress.
- Cluster Headache - Occur in cycles, the same time each day. Characterized by intense pain, usually around or behind the eyes, watery eyes, and runny nose.
- Mixed Headache - Most frequent kind, likely due to overtapping of the vascular and tension mechanisms (contraction of the skeletal head muscles and changes of the arterial blood vessels). Often caused by emotional stress, characterized by throbbing, diffuse pain, intensified by loud noise or light.
- Headaches caused by birth control use - Associated with fluid retention and vascular spasm.
Treatment for Headaches
Try these measures to reduce pain:
- use heating pad on low setting or apply ice bag to painful area
- Lie in dark, quiet room at first sign of attack
- Gentle fingertip massage in front or behind ears for tension
- Use deep breathing and relaxation techniques
- Record on a calendar date of headache, time started and ended, and medication taken
- Eat regularly. Try not to skip meals or go for long periods of time without eating
- Try to avoid stress if that causes headaches
- Get regular amounts of sleep
- Avoid foods or beverages that seem to trigger headaches
- Drink adequate amounts of water; 8-12 glasses per day