Having a headache is one of the most common health complaints.
Types of headaches:
Primary headaches, are those that are not due to an underlying health problem.
Secondary headaches, have a separate cause, such as illness, after too much drinking, or after a head injury.
Maybe to your surprise, frequent headaches can be caused by taking too many painkillers.
Headaches in women are normally caused by their hormones, and many women notice a link with their periods. The pill, pregnancy and menopause are also potential triggers.
If you've been getting really bad headaches, it's natural to worry that something serious might be wrong, like a brain tumour. This is extremely rare, and the cause is almost always something else. There's no harm in seeing your GP if your worried.
Tension headaches, are very common and are considered as everyday headaches. They feel like a dull ache with constant pressure around the head as if a rubber band has been stretched around it.
Stress can cause tension headaches, as well as drinking too much alcohol can contribute, not sleeping enough, depression, not eating and becoming dehydrated.
Cluster headaches, these excruciatingly painful headaches that cause an intense pain around one eye. They are rare and the reason they are called cluster headaches because they occur in clusters for a month or two at a time around the same time of the year.
Migraines aren't as common. If your headache is recurrent and disabling the point it stops you being able to continue with daily activities, there is a possibility it could be a migraine.
Migraines are described as feeling like you have a pounding or throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head. Sometimes you can have other symptoms, such as: nausea, poor concentration, sweating, feeling very hot or very cold, abdominal pain, a frequent need to urinate, sensitivity to light and sensitivity to smells.
Types of migraines:
Migraine with aura, is when there is a warning sign (an aura) before you get the migraine. Warning signs can consist of visual problems, such as flashing lights, and stiffness or a tingling sensation in your neck, shoulders or limbs, problems with co-ordination and difficultly speaking.
Migraine without aura
Causes of migraines
Chemical change, in particular, levels of serotonin decreasing. This makes the blood vessels in a part of your brain contract which makes them narrower. After the blood vessels widen, which is what is thought to cause the headache. It is not fully understood why serotonin levels drop.
Hormones, fluctuating levels of hormones are closely linked to the cause of migraines. Women who suffer with migraines say they are more likely to have one around the time of their period. This is known as a menstrual migraine.
Emotional triggers: stress, anxiety, tension, shock, depression, excitement.
Physical triggers: tiredness, lack of sleep, shift work, poor posture, limb tension, travelling, low blood sugar. Dietary triggers: not eating enough, dehydration, alcohol, food additive tyramine, caffeine, chocolate, citrus fruit and cheese.
Environmental triggers: bright lights, flickering screens, smoking, loud noises, changes in climate, strong smells or a stuffy atmosphere.
Migraine: What's the treatment like?
There is no known cure for migraines however, these are treatments that can be used to ease the symptoms. It might take you awhile to find out which treatment is the best for you as you may need to try different combinations of medication before you find the most effective ones.
Painkillers are usually the first treatment for migraines. Over the counter painkillers can help to reduce your symptoms. Although some people find that the painkiller codeine can make their migraine worse because it can increase the nausea associated with the migraine.
Taking painkillers will be more effective if taken at the first signs of a migraine to give them time to absorb into your bloodstream and ease the symptoms.
If painkillers aren't working for you, some triptan medicines (sumatriptan) are available without prescription, and some you'll need to see your GP for. They cause the blood vessels around the brain to narrow in order to reverse the migraine process.
They are available in the form of tablets, injections or nasal sprays.
Some people find that anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen) are effective in treating the symptoms of a migraine. Like painkillers and triptan medicines, some can be bought over the counter and some will need to be prescribed by your GP.
Do not take ibuprofen if you have/have had stomach problems like peptic ulcers or if you have liver or kidney problems. If nausea is a symptom of your migraines you can take anti-sickness medicines. These can be prescribed from your GP and taken with painkillers.
Similar to painkillers, anti-sickness medication works better when taken as soon as you notice migraine symptoms. For convenience you can buy combination medication from your local pharmacy. These medicines contain both anti-sickness medicines and painkillers. However, the dose of either medications might not be enough to relieve your symptoms, so in that case you might prefer to take the medication separately.
Do ask your GP or pharmacist if you are not sure which medication is best suited for you.
If you are not responding to any of the treatments above your GP could refer you to a specialist migraine clinic.
If you suffer with chronic migraines, you could be eligible for Botox treatment. Botulinum toxin causes weakness in the muscles where it is injected. Reportedly it takes a few days to work, but lasts between four and six months.
Migraine: Are there any risks or side effects?
Migraines are associated with a small increased risk of ischaemic strokes. It occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a blood clot or a fatty material in the arteries. It is very rare to have an ischaemic stroke as a result of a migraine.
There is also a very small increased risk of mental health problems, such as depression, manic depression, anxiety disorder and panic disorder.