Headaches

If you suffer from headaches, you understand the distress headaches cause: the throbbing pain, dizziness, and upsetting nausea. However, sometimes you may try to ignore the headaches. Or wait for them to pass. But the unfortunate truth about headaches is that they usually return. Learn about headache causes, and challenges people face getting help. And, we go over tests doctors order and treatments they prescribe. Accordingly to the World Health Organisation (WHO) * [1], headaches are among the most common disorders in the whole world. Alarmingly, the WHO studies have estimated 50% of the adult population have experienced a headache in the past year. And further 1 in 20 adults has a headache every day. Certainly, the statistics are shocking. Further people are not aware of the causes of headaches. Chronic headaches can damage your quality of life. Understanding the causes is vital to getting the proper treatment for your disorder.

 

Headaches Causes

A headache is a pain in the head or face. This pain can be pounding, dull, sharp, or continuous. Anything that activates the pain receptors in the head and face can be a possible trigger.

Some headache causes are:

  • Muscle tension
  • Stress
  • Blood pressure conditions
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Infections
  • Physical injury
  • Diet and Nutrition
  • Hormonal changes
  • Dental issues
     

What are the different types of headaches?

Headache is a broad term that includes the range of hundreds of possible headache disorders. For instance, Some types of headaches are:

Migraines

This headache disorder is a primary disorder experienced by the population. The WHO estimates 1 in 7 adults suffer from migraines* [2]. However, up to three times as many women experience migraines compared to men.

A migraine is a headache of moderate to severe intensity that lasts from four hours up to several days. That is to say, they typically present as one-sided pulsing pain and are worsened by everyday activities. In addition, nausea often accompanies migraines.

The cause is said to be inflammation around the nerves and blood vessels in the head. A migraine disorder can be life-long and defined by recurrent attacks.

Tension-Type Headache (TTH)

This type of headache is known to be the most common and has a solid link to stress. Further patients with TTH experience tight pain around their head.

There are two categories:

  • TTH episodes last for a few hours and occur less than 15 days a month.
  • Chronic TTH is very disabling, and the pain can be constant. This form occurs more than 15 days a month.

Cluster Headache (CH)

A CH is another primary headache disorder. This disorder is uncommon because it affects less than 1 in 1000 adults *[1].

A CH can occur several times a day. They are short, but severe headache focused around one eye. It can cause a watery eye, eye redness, drooping eye, or a running nose.

That is to say, this disorder can be chronic and have a devastating effect on a person’s life. 

This disorder is self-explanatory and ironic. The cause of MOH is the overuse of medications to treat headaches. MOH is a secondary headache disorder.

 

Associated signs and symptoms of headaches

Headache disorders are a broad group moreover, they are associated with many different symptoms

These include:

  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheaded feeling
  • Loss of balance
  • Mental Confusion
  • Numbness and tingling sensations
  • Speech difficulty
  • Blurry vision
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • More severely, seizures and paralysis
 

Headaches have a strong link with mental health disorders. Figures show that a person with a headache disorder is three times more likely to have depression. Confusingly, a person with depression is three times more likely to have a headache disorder. Besides, doctors are still unsure of the root cause, but the link is clear from years of study. As headache disorders can strongly affect your quality of life, they have a knock-on effect on your mental health. Missing work, missing social events, and a quick temper result from headaches and mental health disorders.

 

Headaches Causes – Mental Health Disorders

Mental health disorders are considered a secondary association of headache disorders. Certainly, depression is one of the most common mental health conditions linked to headaches. Others are post-traumatic stress disorder, Bipolar disorder, and anxiety.

However, according to the American Migraine Foundation, between 30% and 50% of people with headache disorders have clinical anxiety. This number is staggering. Awareness remains low, and common anxiety symptoms can pose headaches, including stress, low mood, and fear.

If you think your headache disorder may be related to stress, anxiety, or other mental illness, it is essential to talk to your doctor. Therefore, we can help you at Epsychiatry. Ask your GP for a referral today.

 

What questions will your doctor ask?

When you decide to seek your doctor’s advice about your headaches, they will need to know details about your exact concerns.

They will ask the following:

  1. Where is the pain located? The back of the head or temples are often identified
  2. The intensity of the pain; Mild, moderate, severe or on a scale of 1-10
  3. How would you describe the pain, e.g. dull, sharp, or throbbing?
  4. Duration of the headache; hours, days or non-stop
  5. Any other symptoms you feel you have.
  6. How often the headache comebacks.
  7. Do certain factors worsen the pain, e.g. sunlight, noise?
  8. Do any factors help the pain, e.g. darkness, massage?

Answering these questions can give your doctor a clear and accurate picture of the type of headache disorder you may have. 

 

What are the barriers to the treatment of a headache disorder?

Headache disorders are uncomfortable and disabling. They can have a massive negative impact on a person’s life. Recurrent headaches and the constant anticipation of the next one can affect a person’s physical, mental, social, and financial wellbeing.

Regardless, the average person – including healthcare professionals – thinks of a headache as a trivial event. Globally, it is likely that the numbers of incidence are much higher than recorded. As people don’t see a headache as something that needs professional treatment, there are many barriers to treatment.

Some barriers are:

Poor awareness of headache disorders

As headaches are seen as an annoyance rather than a disorder, people can be unaware that effective treatments are available. Headaches are not contagious, they usually come in waves, and they do not cause death. This shortfall leads to people underestimating their headaches. A low record of headache disorders in wealthier countries shows that people may be unaware of professional treatments. The WHO calculates that over half of people with headache disorders are self-treating *[1].

Lack of education for healthcare professionals 

The WHO states that an average of 4 hours of the undergraduate programme for medical professionals is about headache disorders. This number is shockingly low, considering the years of training they undertake.

Lack of recognition of the financial burden 

Your government or healthcare system may not recognise the financial cost of a headache disorder. Missing work is a typical result of a headache disorder as people may be unaware to seek treatment. The Healthcare system could provide education and resources for headache disorders, and the indirect savings could be huge. 

 

What treatments are available for headache disorders?

Treatment of headache disorders calls for correct diagnosis, suitably trained healthcare workers, and recognising the related illnesses. As headache causes can be wide-ranging. Finding the proper treatment can take some time.

Ruling out other disorders

Your doctor may recommend a physical exam or investigation tests to rule out other possible illnesses. The investigations can range from a simple exam from your GP to an MRI scan of your brain. Your doctor will have this discussion with you and make a plan in agreement with your wishes.

Medications

Drugs used to treat headache disorders include painkillers, anti-nausea, specific anti-migraine medications, and preventive medications. Anti-anxiety and antidepressants can be helpful. They treat and prevent the effects of mental illness.

Stress Management 

Relaxation techniques can help manage the feeling of stress and overwhelm. This practice can improve both your headache disorder and any mental health association.

Counselling

Traditional talk therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can improve a person’s quality of life, relating to stress, headaches, and mental health illness. A targeted treatment plan can help you alleviate your symptoms and reclaim your freedom. The team at Epsychiatry specialise in delivering effective treatment, personal to you. Request a referral from your GP to start your treatment now. 

 

Can lifestyle changes help treat headaches?

Though you should never attempt to treat a headache disorder with your GP’s advice, a change in your lifestyle can improve both your headache disorder and your mental health.

Many lifestyle factors can cause headaches.

These include:

  1. Diet factors such as large amounts of caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, and cheese.
  2. A stressful work environment or personal life
  3. Smoking or second-hand smoke.
  4. Poor sleep schedule
  5. Low physical activity

Studies have shown improvement in headache disorders from lifestyle changes. Meditation and mindfulness are popular choices. While the practice of meditation can’t eliminate your pain, it can ease your pain or the awareness of pain. Meditation helps lower stress levels, improve pain tolerance, and reduce the need for medications. Some ways to get started are practising controlled breathing, taking a mindful walk, or downloading a meditation app such as Headspace. Healthy eating, regular exercise and self-care practices are also ways to improve your lifestyle. As the saying goes, when you feel good inside, you feel good outside. Some self-care practices are reading a book, taking a break from social media, taking a long bath, and getting enough sleep. 

 

Managing Stress

If stress is a trigger for your headaches, reflect on your work situation or interpersonal relationships to find the source of your stress. Perhaps you can take a step back in work, or you need to consider moving on from a damaging relationship. There is no “right way” to tackle your headache disorder, but seeking help is always a good idea. When suffering from both a headache disorder and mental illness, talk to a licenced therapist and your GP. You can learn strategies to improve your entire lifestyle.

Contact us at Epsychiatry today for more information. 

 

When should I get help?

Public perception and the barriers to treatment mean it can be hard to know when to seek treatment.

Not only do headache disorders cause pain, but they can also damage your outlook on life. In the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019 *[5], migraines are the worlds second leading cause of disability.

If you feel that your headaches are recurring, distressing, or negatively affecting your life, you should seek the advice of a doctor.

Some symptoms of a headache can be life-threatening. You should seek medical attention immediately if you experience confusion, slurred speech, seizures, or a loss of consciousness. 

 

References

[1] World Health Organisation (2016) Headache disorders. Available online:

< https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/headache-disorders >

[2] World Health Organisation (2014) Headache disorders: How common are headaches? Available online: < https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/headache-disorders-how-common-are-headaches >

[3] Breslau N., Davis G., Schultz L., and Peterson E. (1994) Migraine and major depression: A longitudinal study. Available online: < https://www.migrainetrust.org/hot-topic-migraine-mental-health/ >

[4] American Migraine Foundation (2018) Understanding the relationship between migraine and mental health. Available online: < https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/link-between-migraine-depression-anxiety/ >

[5] Steiner, T., Stovner, L., Jensen, R. et al. (2019) Migraine remains second among the world’s causes of disability, and first among young women. Available online: < https://thejournalofheadacheandpain.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s10194-020-01208-0#:~:text=02%20December%202020-,Migraine%20remains%20second%20among%20the%20world’s%20causes%20of%20disability%2C%20and,young%20women%3A%20findings%20from%20GBD2019&text=The%20capstone%20papers%20on%20the,in%20Lancet%20on%20October%2017th >