There are two main categories of headaches, primary and secondary. Primary headaches are not caused by underlying medical conditions while secondary headaches are the end result of some other medical condition such as a brain tumor, infection or trauma.
Primary headaches make up about 90% of all headaches and tension-type headaches are the most common of these. Migraine headaches are also primary and affect as many as 30 or 40 million Americans.
It has been estimated that as many as 75% or more of all headache sufferers have tension headaches. And upwards of 90% of adults in the USA have experienced the pain of a tension headache.
In differentiating tension and migraine headaches the tension-type is usually characterized by a constant dull aching on both sides of the head. Migraine headaches, on the other hand, are typically felt on just one side and are throbbing in nature.
Tension headaches usually begin slowly and worsen over time. They often begin in the middle of the day and are caused by stress. Because of this they are often called stress headaches. They can become chronic in nature, occurring every day in some patients. Many tension-type headache sufferers experience a tight feeling in their head or neck muscles.
Migraine headaches can also become chronic in nature, but are usually experienced once or twice a week at most and not daily. Approximately 75% of patients experiencing migraine headaches are female. Migraine headaches can be disabling and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. About 20% will experience an aura, a disturbance in vision that can consist of bright blinking colored lights that move across their field of vision.
There are many types of treatment methods available to sufferers of both tension and migraine headaches. The most common approach is to take an over-the-counter pain reliever (no prescription necessary). Non-prescription medicines can include aspirin, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), ibuprofen (such as Motrin), or a combination of aspirin and acetaminophen. These are the most popular types of non-prescription pain relievers. People with more severe pain may need prescription medicine.
There are also different types of natural treatment methods that dont involve the use of over-the-counter or prescription medicines. These can often relieve headache symptoms. One method is to put an ice pack on the base of the skull. When using an ice pack there should be a barrier between the ice pack and the skin, such as a wetted cloth that has had the water wrung out of it. This can lessen the flow of blood to the head resulting in less pressure in the head. A person can also put their feet in a container of warm water. This has the effect of attracting the blood to the feet instead of the head, again reducing pressure to the head.
Migraine headaches can sometimes be helped by eliminating the triggers. Foods that may trigger migraines include, but are not limited to, cheese, alcohol, MSG (monosodium glutamate), nuts, beans, caffeine, chocolate, onions and others. Eliminating the trigger may eliminate migraines.
Another way to eliminate headaches naturally is to reduce your stress by relaxing. Get plenty of sleep. Lie down in a dark quiet room. Or try a combination of lying down in a dark quiet room while you have a small ice pack positioned at the base of your skull.
This article is a general overview of tension-type and migraine headaches and may not apply to everyone. But sometimes one idea is all it takes to reduce painful tension or migraine headaches.
Dr. Larry A. Johnson, D.C.