Why Do We Get Headaches?

Why Do We Get Headaches?

We’ve all suffered from a headache at one point or another. Whether it’s self-induced or something out of our control, a pain in the brain is never much fun. Headaches are one of the most common medical complaints. They can affect anyone regardless of age, race, or gender, and they occur for all sorts of reasons. Some last for minutes, some for hours, and some for days or even weeks!

First of all, just how common are headaches? The World Health Organization reports that almost half of all adults worldwide will experience a headache in any given year. And the reasons can be anything from signs of stress, medical disorders, such as migraine or high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, or even drinking too much alcohol. First we decided to look at how the medical industry categorizes headaches. There are primary headaches, which is defined as when the pain in your head is the condition. Your headache isn’t being triggered by something that your body is dealing with. Common primary headaches include migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches. Then there are secondary headaches, which may feel exactly the same as a primary headache, but is actually the result of another condition, such as a sinus headache from sinusitis.

Let’s take a look at a few of the possible causes of headaches. We came across an article on the United Kingdom’s National Health Service website. They list 10 of the most common triggers for headaches:

1: Relaxing after stress: when your levels of stress hormones drop, there is a rapid release of neurotransmitters and other brain activity, which causes a headache.

2: Pent-up anger: When you’re angry, muscles in the back of your neck tense up, causing a tight sensation around your head.

3. Poor posture: Poor posture also causes muscle tension in your back, neck and shoulders, which can lead to a headache.

4. Perfume: Household cleaners, along with perfumes and fragrant air fresheners, contain chemicals that can bring on headaches.

5. Bad weather: High humidity, rising temperatures and storms can all bring on head pain.

6. Grinding teeth: Grinding your teeth at night makes your jaw muscle contract, often causing a dull headache.

7. Bright lights: Bright lights and glare, especially if flickering, can induce migraines.

8. Food triggers: Many foods contain chemicals that can bring on headaches. Some culprits include aged cheeses like stilton and brie, diet fizzy drinks, and processed meats and fish.

9. Sex headaches: Yes! A headache can be the result of sex and not always the reason for no sex. Doctors think sex headaches are due to pressure building up in the head and neck muscles. The headaches can happen during foreplay or just before orgasm, and can last for a few minutes or up to an hour.

10. Ice cream: We’ve all experienced brain freeze after eating ice cream too quickly. Well, that sharp, stabbing pain in your forehead is caused by cold material moving across the roof of your mouth and the back of your throat.

What about headaches that last for days or even weeks? Some of the worst headaches are migraines and cluster headaches. A cluster headache is one of the most painful types of headaches there is. The condition affects 0.1 percent of the world's population and a sufferer often awakens in the middle of the night with intense pain in or around one eye on one side of their head. The pain can last from weeks to months, and is usually followed by remission periods when the headache stop for months or sometimes even years before returning. We looked at some personal accounts of people dealing with cluster headaches and found a 2014 Vice article, where a 27 year old woman talks about her experiences with the pain. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and feeling a drill in your eye, like somebody has pierced a hot metal rod through your neck and rammed it up into your brain. This not a metaphor. This is what a luster headache feels like, she explains. Fortunately, cluster headaches are rare and not life-threatening. The most successful ways to treat the pain are a shot of sumatriptan (Imitrex) and breathing oxygen through a facemask for 20 minutes, as well as prescription migraine medication. In some rare cases, people require surgery to alleviate the pain.

So, what about migraine headaches? Migraines are far more common than cluster headaches but still very unpleasant. They are the third most common disease in the world with an estimated global prevalence of 14.7%, which is around 1 in 7 people. A migraine can cause severe throbbing pain, which is usually on one side of the head. And it’s not only a headache. Sufferers often vomit and have extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Attacks can cause significant pain for hours to days and can be so severe that the pain is disabling. So why do some people get migraines and some not? According to Amy Norton, writer for WebMd.com, people who experience migraines have a thinner and smaller cortex compared to headache-free people shown in MRI scans done by the researchers. Maybe this is the reason, however according to ScienceFocus, the precise cause of migraines is still unknown. The most likely causes are hormonal fluctuations, certain foods and additives, skipping meals or consuming a lot of caffeine, and disturbed sleep and jet lag.

One of the most common reasons for a headache is a hangover. According to the Honor Society of Nursing (STTI), up to 75 percent of people who drink alcohol have experienced hangover symptoms at least once. So what is a hangover and why do you get a headache after drinking alcohol? When alcohol enters your bloodstream, it tells your pituitary gland not to produce the hormone vasopressin. Without vasopressin, the kidneys send water directly to the bladder instead of reabsorbing it into the body. This is why drinkers have to make frequent trips to the bathroom after urinating for the first time during an evening of drinking. When you're drinking alcohol, you lose about four times more liquid than you gain. This causes dehydration, one of the main symptoms of a hangover. The headache is a direct result of dehydration. Your organs are so desperate, they steal water from your brain, which causes your brain to shrink a little – ouch! And there’s your hangover headache. But the good thing about this type of headache is, you can choose whether to indulge or not. To avoid the dreaded hangover headache, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, eat a hearty breakfast…or just give up the bottle.

So, have you suffered from any of these types of headaches? Or perhaps you know of some alternative cures not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments!

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