Having a headache is one of the most common conditions related to stress, which means a good number of people experience them during their lives. While not always a serious concern, some forms of headaches do require immediate medical attention. And that is because they may be a sign of an underlying health issue. But what really causes a headache, and is there a connection between a headache and stress? In this article, we will look at that and more. These include the different types of headaches as well as how you can minimize exposure to headaches.

What is a Headache exactly?

A headache can be described as the pain you experience in your face or head. This pain always feels like pressure, which is constant and throbbing. Plus, it can be dull or sharp. Headache is one of the most common types of pain that people have to endure during their lifetime. In fact, studies suggest that a headache is one of the most common reasons why people miss work or school.

Different Types of Headaches

Did you know that there are over 150 different types of headaches? They are divided into two categories, which are a primary headache and a secondary headache.

Primary Headache

A primary headache is caused by over-activity or dysfunction of pain-sensitive features in the head. Ideally, it is worth noting that some genes in the body can increase your chances of developing a primary headache. Well, these kinds of headaches include:

  • Cluster headaches
  • Tension-type headaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • NDPH (New Daily Persistent Headaches)
The Connection Between Headaches and Stress

Some situations we find ourselves in as well as other lifestyle factors can trigger a primary headache. These are:

  • Meal skipping, which causes a hunger headache
  • Crying/laughing vigorously, straining, blowing nose, sneezing, or coughing, which can cause a primary cough headache.
  • Physical activity (like exercise), which can lead to an exertion headache
  • Nicotine consumption, which causes a nicotine headache
  • Eating processed meats, which contain nitrates, can make you develop a food-triggered headache

Other causes of a primary headache are lack of sleep or changes in sleep and poor posture. While primary headaches are usually not dangerous, they can disrupt your everyday life, not to mention subject you to all kinds of pain.

Secondary Headache

An underlying medical condition can lead to a secondary headache. Needless to say, this type of headache is regarded as a sign of a condition or symptom. It includes:

  • A headache due to the overuse of medication
  • Sinus headache
  • Dehydration headache

There are also other types of secondary headaches, which can be a sign of something more serious. These are:

  • Thunderclap headache: As its name suggests, this type of headache comes on suddenly like a clap of thunder. It is normally very painful and can be a sign of bleeding in the brain, an injury in the head, a sudden and severe rise in blood pressure, or a reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome.
  • Spinal headache: This is an intense headache that occurs when a spinal fluid starts to leak out of the membrane that covers your spinal cord. If it goes untreated, a spinal headache can lead to life-threatening complications such as seizures and subdural hematoma.

Why People Suffer from Headaches

It is estimated that nearly 96% of people develop a headache at least once in their life. Well, headache pain is caused by signals that interact among your blood vessels, surrounding nerves, and brain. Several mechanisms activate specific nerves, which, in return, affect blood vessels and muscles during a headache. A headache sets in when these nerves send pain signals to the brain.

The Connection Between Headaches and Stress

Studies show that stress is one of the major causes of a headache. Although it is unclear which exact mechanisms can make you develop stress, Susan Broner, MD [1], assistant professor of clinical neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, says that physiological changes occur in your body when you are stressed out.

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In other words, your flight or fight response is triggered when you are under stress. This means such hormones as adrenaline and cortisol are released into your bloodstream to prepare your body to run to escape imminent danger or fight for your life. Continuous release of these hormones can lead to chronic stress, which, in turn, can trigger a headache.

How Headaches Impact the Body

A headache affects the body in many different ways, depending on the type and the person. That being said, you are likely to experience the following if you are suffering from migraine:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Increased sensitivity to sound and light

On the other hand, if you have a primary or secondary headache, then this is how it is likely to affect your body.

  • Finding it hard to focus
  • Muscle pains
  • Experiencing irritability
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Pain or pressure in the sides, front, or top of the head

Tips to Reduce Exposure to Headaches

Since stress is one of the major causes of a headache, changing your lifestyle in an effort to reduce a headache makes a lot of sense. You can do this in the following ways:

  • Limit your exposure to stress: One way to limit stress is to always plan and stay organized. You can also limit stress by going for a massage or meditation.
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep is especially important when it comes to dealing with a headache. It has been proven that sleep not only helps the body tackle stress (which causes a headache) but also can be a factor which contributes positively to helping treat job-related burnout.
  • Spend more time with the people you love: Taking breaks from work to spend time with your loved ones can help keep stress and depression at bay. You see, when you are in the company of your loved ones, you are less likely to be lost in your worries and fear.

Other ways to reduce your exposure to a headache include exercising regularly (which can also help treat job burnout); drinking plenty of water; eating regular and balanced meals; improving your posture, and limiting alcohol and caffeine intake. You should also have a headache diary to help you spot triggers early enough.

What Kind of Help is Available for Headache Sufferers?

A tension headache can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, do not rely too much on these pain relievers. That is because over-relying on pain relievers can lead to another type of headache called a medication overuse headache, as stated earlier.

Over-the-counter pain relievers are perfect for when you are experiencing an occasional headache. If it is a severe or frequent headache, then your healthcare provider will recommend you a different type of drug – prescription headache medications.

You should also note that drugs for treating or controlling high blood pressure, seizures, and depression can help a headache sufferer as well. As such, your healthcare provider may suggest that you try this kind of medication to curb a frequent headache.

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FAQ

Most types of headaches are less serious and will not even require you to go to the hospital. However, some types can be life-threatening, especially if left untreated. Among them is a spinal headache, which can cause seizures if not treated early enough or simply ignored. With that said, if your headache refuses to go away even after taking medication, it might be time to seek comprehensive medical attention. That is because the headache may be a sign of an underlying medical problem.

A tension-type headache is the most common type of headache. According to research, two in three adults in the U.S. suffer from a tension headache. Nevertheless, a chronic tension headache is much less common, with only 3% of adults experiencing it. It is also important to note that women suffer from this form of headache more often than men. It is believed that stress is one of the fundamental triggers of a tension headache. Therefore, be keen to take good rest, especially when you are home from work.

According to research, one of the ways to reduce exposure to a headache is to change your lifestyle. Such activities as working out regularly, getting a good night’s rest, and catching up with friends and family on a consistent basis can help reduce your chances of suffering from a headache. Up to this point, you now know that there is a connection between stress and headache. These activities significantly reduce stress, thereby, helping curb headaches.

Researchers believe that a thunderclap headache is the most painful type of headache. This type of headache falls into the secondary headache category. This means it is always a sign of an underlying medical condition. Like a clap of thunder, a thunderclap headache occurs suddenly and is extremely painful, with its most intense pain occurring in a minute. A thunderclap headache lasts no less than five minutes.

If a headache refuses to go away, then this might be the best time to see a healthcare provider. That is because headaches that do not go away or keep occurring in the same area of the head may be a sign of something more serious. Upon seeing the doctor, you will undergo several diagnoses to check if there is an underlying medical condition. The doctor may also prescribe you medication to help curb this type of headache. Furthermore, your healthcare provider may advise you to stop exposure to stressful activities since stress can cause headaches, particularly tension headache. Alternatively, you could see a coach that specialises in stress-management.

References

  1. Weillcornell.org – Susan Broner MD – found on 25/01/2023
    Link to page on weillcornerll.org

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