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.
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)
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.
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 , 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:
- 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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- Weillcornell.org – Susan Broner MD – found on 25/01/2023
Link to page on weillcornerll.org