Simply defined, a headache is a pain in the head due to some cause. Headaches may result from any number of factors, including tension; muscle contraction; vascular problems; withdrawal from certain medications; abscesses; or injury.
Headaches fall into three main categories: tension-type, migraine and cervicogenic. Tension-type headaches are the most frequent. Patients who endure tension-type headaches usually feel mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head. The pain is usually described as tight, stiff or constricting, as if something is being wrapped around your head and squeezed tightly.
Cervicogenic headaches are the most recently diagnosed type of headache and are musculoskeletal in nature. They may be caused by pain in the neck or spine that is transferred to the head. Many times, cervicogenic headaches go undiagnosed because of their recent classification.
Nearly everyone will suffer a headache at some point in time. They are one of the most common physical complaints that prompt people to treat themselves or seek professional assistance. Some estimates say that up to 50 million Americans suffer from sever, long-lasting, recurring headaches. While most headaches are not necessarily symptomatic of another condition, they can be very distracting and account for significant amounts of time lost from work.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a very consistent and philosophically based framework for headache etiology, physiology, diagnosis and treatment strategy. Acupuncture, as an effective treatment modality, has been applied to headaches from the earliest beginnings of TCM.
Acupuncture is not only effective for migraine headaches, but also works very well with tension headaches, cluster headaches, post-traumatic headaches, and disease-related headaches that might be due to sinus problems, high blood pressure or sleeping disorders. The greatest advantage of acupuncture over Western medicine is that it does virtually no harm. Some medications can have serious side effects and can (in some instances) actually lead to patients experiencing a "rebound" headache. Unlike synthetic drugs, acupuncture has virtually no side effects, and the procedures for treating headaches are much less invasive with acupuncture than with surgery.
Common headache pain is caused by vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels). Because this is not well understood, even by pharmacists and doctors it seems, common medications prescribed for headaches (e.g. beta blockers which dilate blood vessels) can make migraines worse.
Migraine can be life threatening, preceding strokes, aneurysms, permanent visual loss, severe dental problems, epileptic seizures, coma and even death. It also greatly impacts job productivity, personal and social relationships.
More than 90 percent of headaches can be classified as Tension-type, Migraine, Cervicogenic or Cluster.
The most common are the frequent, Tension-type headaches. People typically suffer mild to moderate pain, on both sides of the head that is often described as tight, stiff, constricting – like having something wrapped around your head and pressing tightly.
Migraines are periodic, severe, throbbing headaches that afflict far fewer people than tension-type headaches, and are usually more frequent in women than men. These types of headaches usually hurt on one side of the head, can cause loss of appetite, nausea and even vomiting, and may involve temporary visual changes.
Cervicogenic headache is a musculoskeletal form of tension-type headache (which may also be related to migraines). Often, cervicogenic headaches go undiagnosed, and this is at least in part, due to the relative newness of this classification.
Cluster headaches occur most often in men, and are characterized by excruciating pain in an eye or a temple, and last from 15 minutes to an hour or more. They occur in waves lasting weeks to months, and occurring once or twice a year.
If you are a headache sufferer, your obvious concern is to obtain safe, dependable relief. You should avoid making things worse by using drugs – even over-the-counter, nonprescription drugs – that can have serious side effects and dangerous interactions with other medications or supplements that you might be taking. You should also be aware that many people experience what are termed "analgesic rebound headaches" from taking painkillers every day, or nearly every day. The medicine you take to get rid of today's headache may give you a headache tomorrow and the days after, due to the gradual build-up of some of the compounds found in todays' headache relief tablets.
When a headache hits, it can be triggered by a number of factors. These triggers act on people with a genetic disposition toward irregular serotonin control. It is thought that a trigger causes a wave of electrical activity to spread through the brain. The serotonin level then surges in a kind of a wave action. A result is that decreases in serotonin can cause blood vessels to become irritated, and maybe the trigeminal nerve (a major nerve in the brain/face) as well. The result is... a headache and associated pain.
Many sufferers of chronic headaches increase their susceptibility by over-medicating, which can lead to rebound headaches. Rebound headaches are more frequent headaches which are the result of too much pain relief medication; where "too much" can be the amount of caffeine contained in three or four cups of coffee per day, or in more than twice-weekly doses of pain relievers or decongestants; or even two aspirins a day and some caffeine.
It is important to use medications sparingly by tolerating as much pain as you can. A person may find that something like Aleve, Advil, aspirin, or Tylenol may effectively reduce headache pain, which can lead to more frequent use, which may then cause more frequent headaches. And, for whatever reason, the medication of choice tends to become less effective, causing one to increase the frequency of its use in a kind of an endless circle.
- Try a relaxation technique, like deep breathing, or Yoga.
- Drink things without caffeine in them: soft drinks, water, etc.
- Try aspirin, ibuprofen (like Advil, for instance), or acetaminophen - but not more than twice a week (to avoid the rebound).
- Use ice packs. Ice can be very effective at the point of pain.
- Try to rest or sleep in a dark, quiet room.
Exercise - aerobic exercise, done for thirty minutes, five times a week, may help prevent headaches. It is probable that the endorphins released during exercise tend to promote a sense of well-being.
It should be emphasized that emotions - stress, worry, depression, etc. can also act as triggers to headaches and migraines. It is therefore essential to maintain good emotional balance, even if that means some form of psychotherapy. Foods are often mentioned as significant triggers, but their importance is much less relevant in the face of stress and biochemical imbalances.
If all else has failed, you may decide to turn to preventive medication with a physician's assistance (see below). You may choose to follow this path if:
- You get moderate to severe migraines more than three times per month
- Migraine relief has so far failed
- The frequency/intensity of your migraines is adversely affecting your quality of life
The following medications probably won't eliminate your migraines, but could improve the quality of your life:
- Beta Blockers
- Calcium Blockers
If you still do not find relief, a doctor might prescribe combinations of previously identified medications.
As a last resort, there is a group of drugs called "MAO inhibitors" (like Nardil). These drugs are helpful for both migraines and simple daily headaches. While these drugs can be very helpful, along with the drugs comes a long list of foods and other drugs to avoid when taking them. Your doctor will advise.
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Always seek health advice from your doctor, or local Health Outlet. AcuMedic will be very pleased to offer advice regarding difficulties with this condition. Please see our Clinic
Please note that although we are confident that our treatments will help the majority of our patients, we cannot absolutely guarantee a cure as the needs and difficulties of each patient can differ greatly