The Facts on Headaches
Headaches are extremely common: most people have a headache at some time in their life. Most headaches disappear on their own (with a little time) or with the help of mild painkillers or therapy. Although most headaches are mild and temporary annoyances, some people have headaches that are so severe they need to consult a doctor for pain relief.
Adult women experience more headaches than adult men. They’re often linked to the menstrual cycle. With advancing age, both women and men tend to have fewer, less severe headaches.
Headaches come in various forms: tension, migraine, sinus, and cluster headaches. In a small number of cases, a headache may signal a more serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Causes of Headaches
Headaches can be triggered by a variety of factors. The most common cause of headaches is prolonged tension or stress. These are called tension headaches or muscle-contraction headaches. Virtually everyone suffers from this at some time. Muscles in your scalp, neck, and face tighten and contract, causing spasms and pain. Psychological factors such as anxiety, fatigue (e.g., eyestrain), and stress (e.g., long periods of concentration) and mechanical neck strain (e.g., working at computer terminal for prolonged periods) are often the culprits behind a typical tension headache.
Migraines are generally more severe and can be debilitating. The cause of migraine is not known but many trigger factors are recognized. These include: hormonal changes (during a woman’s menstrual cycle), certain foods (e.g., chocolate, aged cheeses), beverages (e.g., red wine), strong odours, lack of sleep and even stress. It is not uncommon to suffer from mixed tension-migraine headaches.
Sinus headaches are less common than people think. They can occur after upper respiratory infections such as a cold. Along with the headache, people often have a runny or stuffy nose. Sinus headaches are caused when bacteria invade and infect the nasal sinuses.
Cluster headaches are a relatively uncommon type of headache. They tend to occur in clusters over a few days, weeks or months with long headache-free periods lasting from months to years. In some cases, they are triggered by alcohol. The cause is not known.