By Dr. Cory Couillard
Headache disorders are extraordinarily common, yet very few population-based studies exist in spite of the high rates of occurrence in developing countries. This lack of statistics is due to limited funding and large, often rural populations. Fortunately, headaches can be significantly reduced through improved lifestyle factors like diet, exercise and stress reduction.
In developed countries, Tension Type Headache (TTH) can affect up to two-thirds of adult males and more than 80 percent of females. Statistics show about 3,000 migraine attacks occur every day per million people and as many as 1 in 20 adults has a headache nearly every day.
What are the types of headaches?
The most frequent types of headaches are migraines, tension and sinus. The symptoms of the headaches differ based on the individual and the unique causative triggers. The goal should not be limited to treating headaches but preventing them through a proactive approach.
Migraines are common in adults and teenagers. Symptoms include severe pain either on one or both sides of the head which moves from one area of the skull to another. Migraines are commonly grouped with a series of other symptoms as well. One can experience an upset stomach, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound and moodiness.
The most common form of headache is the Tension Type Headache. Pain associated with this type of headache commonly extends into the neck, shoulders and the middle of the back. Poor posture, abnormal sleeping positions, past/current injuries and significant stress levels can all contribute to tension headaches.
Sinus headaches commonly affect individuals during weather changes and seasonal allergen exposure. Sinus headaches are caused by pressure in the nasal passages that can cause fever, eye strain and coughing. The pain is continuous and is commonly mistaken for a migraine type headache.
A cluster headache is the least common – but most severe – type of primary headache. The intensity of this headache is very high and can be described as a burning or piercing pain. This constant pain is located behind one eye or in the eye region. Cluster headaches usually occur at a specific time of day and recur one to three times in a predictable pattern.
Associated risk factors found
Hormonal changes are a common cause of headaches in women. The physical, chemical and emotional stress of puberty, monthly menstrual cycles, pregnancies and menopause require constant hormonal fluctuations throughout life. Even minor imbalances can be a cause of headaches.
Headaches can also be triggered by specific environmental factors such as exposure to secondhand smoke, fumes from household cleaners, perfumes, exposure to certain allergens and even eating certain foods. Stress, pollution, noise and certain types of lighting are other environmental factors that can trigger headaches.
What causes headaches?
As you can see, many of the causes of headaches are part of our everyday lives. The secret to treatment and prevention is to improve how your body is able to respond to the onslaught of triggers. This improved response can be achieved through dietary factors, quality exercise, stress reduction, proper sleep and adequate hydration levels.
Exercise has been deemed one of the best ways to improve how your body responds to stress. Engaging in an exercise programme will improve neurology and circulation while reducing the damaging effects of stress. Exercise helps balance hormones, encourage weight loss and aide in detoxification. Together, these positive side effects will reduce the occurrence of headaches.
This column is directed by your questions, comments and inquiries. The health advice provided is in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of prevention, maintenance and natural treatment of disease. The advice is for educational purposes and does not necessarily reflect endorsement.
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