We have all suffered a headache at some point in our lives, and there are many causes for this common ailment. Stress is always a large contributor, as is tiredness, hunger, thirst and even eating your ice cream too quickly. But would you know the difference between a headache caused by an interrupted night of sleep or one brought upon by a toothache? We’ve listed below 5 of the most popular causes of a headache and how to spot them, so you can treat it in the best way possible and get back to your every day life.
Stress is one of the worst culprits for a headache, often causing a tension-type headache which affects the whole head and feels like you are wearing a band around your head that is too small. However, stress headaches are often misinterpreted as something else because they usually occur after the stressful event or period of time. This is because the chemicals produced during times as stress, mainly cortisol, suddenly stop being produced when the stress is over. This dive in the cortisol causes the pain receptors in our brain to receive a signal and cause a headache.
Trying to reduce stress and recognise when it is occurring will help prevent the headache from ever happening. This is closely linked to our routines and keeping a similar sleep pattern, and trying to do gentle exercise and maintain perspective during times of stress.
This is another huge cause of headaches which is all too often overlooked. Did you know, when you feel thirsty this is your body saying you have already left it too long to drink? Ideally, we shouldn’t wait until we feel thirsty to drink, rather we should simply regularly drink small amounts, around 2 litres a day, for our body to run at optimum levels.
If you have a headache due to dehydration, try and drink a glass of water immediately, and then sip water continuously until the headache subsides.
In recent years we have seen a huge rise in the muscle tension headache. With the wonderful technologies of smart phones and laptops, the world’s posture has become increasingly worse. Looking down at our phones can place around 60lbs of weight on our necks, compared to just 15lbs at the upright position. This, combined with the rounded shoulders which occur when we are sat down and looking at a screen, causes the strain on our neck, shoulders and spine to be a lot more than is ideal, which in turn causes a headache as our neck muscles take the strain. Muscle tension headaches often begin in the neck and behind the ears, but can spread to a general dull ache around the entire head.
Getting some physiotherapy or a massage on our shoulders and neck can greatly reduce and the pain and relax our muscles which ease the headaches. This is a great short term solution, but your physiotherapist will probably give you some exercises to help improve your posture and help prevent your muscles from becoming tense in the first place.
As a developed world, we completely underestimate the importance of decent sleep, and depriving yourself of a good night’s sleep can and will cause headaches, as well as a whole lot of other issues. These headaches usually present similar to a stress headache, and are indeed often the same thing as we tend to be tired and stressed at the same time. They also often cause a pain behind the eyes, and even cause your cheekbones and temples to be tender to touch.
The simple answer is to sleep, but there are certain sleeping do and don’ts to make sure you’re waking up refreshed and ready for the day. Duration of sleep is important, as we do need 7-8 hours a night, but the most important thing is a regular pattern of sleep. Going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day, including at weekends, will greatly improve your wellbeing and headaches, as your body gets into its own rhythm.
Just as having bad sleeping patterns can give you headaches, eating at different times can cause headaches as well. If your body is expecting a meal at a certain time and does not receive it, it has to work a lot harder to keep you going until you get the food energy needed. What’s more, eating too much or not enough of one food group can cause headaches as well, as your body tries to cope with the fluctuating levels of different proteins, sugars and fats. Hunger headaches tend to be quite intense and are fixed as soon as you get the foods needed, but they can also continue or worsen if the wrong thing are eaten. If you have a headache due to too much sugar, a chocolate bar probably won’t help!
If you’re experiencing a hunger headache at the same time each day, chances are your routine is all wrong. Try and have a larger breakfast with more fibre and complex carbohydrates to get you through to lunchtime, or eat smaller, more frequent meals. Routine and a balanced diet is key here, and listening to your body when it is hungry and before you get a headache will stop the painful headaches occurring.
Headaches, particularly the ones discussed in this blogpost, are usually harmless and can be fixed with some pain killers and the preventative measures mentioned. Sometimes, however, headaches persist or worsen over time, and can even progress into a migraine. Chronic headaches, or headaches that come on quickly with moderate to severe pain, should not be ignored. Run all your symptoms in to the Isabel Symptom Checker and decide on the best course of action with our triage tool “Where Now?” This will help you get the treatment needed and flag up anything else more serious.