What causes headaches?

File:Tension-headache.jpg

The chances are that someone reading this will be experiencing a headache. It might be a migraine headache, a tension headache, or even, dare I say, a hangover! There are so many causes of headaches, including some you might have overlooked.

Take the weekend lie in for example. Working flat out all week and then suddenly stopping, causes stress hormones in the bloodstream to suddenly drop. This sudden drop in stress hormones triggers the release of neurotransmitters which cause the blood vessels to constrict and this frequently results in a pounding headache. The solution? Work on lowering your stress levels during the week and then the come down won’t be so marked.

Have you ever woken up with a headache and wondered why? Could you be grinding your teeth in your sleep? Again stress is likely to be the culprit when you find yourself grinding your teeth and wake up with a headache. You may not necessarily be aware of it, but tell tale signs include aching teeth, neck and facial tension in the mornings. As well as working on lowering your stress levels you could try having a neck, shoulder and facial massage. Some forms of massage are particularly good at releasing emotional tension, see pulsing.co.uk

Poor sleep as a result of a partner snoring can also be a common cause of daytime headaches. A simple but effective cure might be to use earplugs designed especially for this purpose, see zenplugs.co.uk

Bad posture is a common cause of headaches, sitting down at a computer all day with your head and neck pivoting on tight back, neck and shoulder muscles. While glare from the computer screen, along with eyes straining to focus on a near distant screen often triggers headaches.

Surprisingly, exercise can also cause headaches with some people. For example, “Joggers headache” which comes about when the muscles of the head, neck and scalp need more blood to circulate. This causes the blood vessels to swell. This type of headache is known as an exertion headache. Another cause of exertion headache is the “orgasmic headache.” While this might only be an occasional problem for some, those with a predisposition to migraines are more likely to suffer exertion headaches. Such pain may last anything from a few minutes to several hours. It is thought to be due to the rapid rise in blood pressure which occurs during sex and, in particular, during orgasm.

Recent press coverage suggests that overuse of painkillers taken to cure headaches, may actually be the cause of headaches for many people dailymail.co.uk  The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) nice.org.uk suggest incorrect diagnosis may be a factor along with fears of possible underlying causes. While I agree that persistent headaches require investigation to rule out brain tumours and other life threatening conditions, I do not necessarily accept that mis-diagnosis is a major problem. In my opinion, it is more likely that the problem relates to ease of access to analgesic medication which is seen as a quick fix, coupled with lack of education about alternative ways to address the pain caused by headaches. Treating themselves with over-the-counter medications may seem like a good idea, but with the array of potent drugs available, like aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen and the addictive codeine based painkillers it is not surprising that people are giving themselves drug induced “rebound headaches.”

At my Bexhill practice, not only have seen many people addicted to over-the-counter analgesic medication, but I have also seen many trapped in a cycle of “health anxiety.” This preoccupation with illness with people worried about headaches, actually leads to raised stress and tension, resulting in further headaches. Forcing GP’s to send them for tests only results in more stress headaches and the cycle goes on, as they repeatedly seek tests and investigations.

One of the best ways to manage pain of all types (including headaches) is to learn mindfulness meditation steveclifford.info. With its origins in Buddhist philosophy 2500 years ago, this type of meditation has been well tested, and, I am delighted to report, it is free from side effects! Despite first impressions, mindfulness meditation is not strictly the preserve of shaven headed monks as anyone can benefit from learning the techniques. It is simple to learn and offers a very powerful tool to combat stress, tension and associated headaches. Instead of trying to push pain away, mindfulness teaches us to approach it, to explore and to embrace, rather than fight it. With practice, by letting go of the resistance to pain, the pain becomes more manageable and headaches ease.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

image ref: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATension-headache.jpg

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