Identifying the Cause of Headaches as Part of Care

June 18, 2019

When you have pain and tension in your head, it can be excruciating — debilitating even. Most people experiencing this just want it to go away NOW. They often are not looking at the root cause of the problem. But when you have any type of head-ache, it’s important to know what type you have, so you can understand how best to treat it.

When it comes to headaches, there are generally five most common types:

  • Tension headaches
  • Sinus headaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • Headaches as symptoms of disease or illness
  • Headaches caused by medications

Understanding the differences between these top five will better help you find proper relief as well as root causes.

Tension Headaches

If you feel a dull pain in your head — usually both sides — then you may be experiencing a tension headache. This type of headache also involves tense muscles in the neck or scalp.  
There are different causes of tension headaches, including:

  • Sudden decrease in caffeine consumption
  • Emotional stress
  • Clenching of the jaw at night or during the daytime
  • Depression
  • Exposure to computer screen blue light and electromagnetic radiation for long periods of time
  • Consumption of alcohol
  • Having a cold
  • Use of some medications (read the list of side effects on your medication printout)

As you can see from this list, you do have control to a large degree over the frequency of tension headaches. There are simple, natural,  lifestyle changes, for example, that you can incorporate into your daily life to prevent and minimize the discomfort from tension headaches. Controlling your caffeine consumption carefully, learning ways to manage and stress, protecting yourself from electromagnetic radiation, talking with your doctor about current  medication side effects, and cutting out alcohol consumption, are all good examples. Of course getting regular, quality sleep is a must!

Vitamin and Nutrient Deficiencies Can Cause Tension Headaches

Recent evidence from a medical study in India in 2017 has shown that low levels of vitamin D are associated with tension headaches. In the study of 100 patients with chronic tension headaches and migraines, 71% of patients with headaches had a vitamin D deficiency compared with only 25% of patients without headaches.

Those with headaches also experienced much more pain in their muscles and bones, muscle weakness, muscle tenderness, and bone tenderness. Thus, finding out whether you have a vitamin D deficiency can help you better cope with headaches or even decrease their frequency.

In a University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Study in 2016, reported in the Headache Journal, scientists stated that a diet high in omega 3 fats decreased the frequency of attacks of both migraines and other types of headaches.

A report in the journal Cephalgia stated that doctors in the Netherlands gave children 50 mg riboflavin daily. Forty-two of the children, aged 6-13 years, had a history of migraines, while 14 of them had a history of tension headaches. The children received either a placebo or riboflavin for four months. At the end of the study, there was a significant reduction in the tension headaches among the children who received riboflavin, but not the migraines.

Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches occur because the sinuses surrounding the nose and on the face get inflamed, often due to an infection. Sinus infections may be caused by bacteria or viruses, or as a result of fungal infections. In this case, there is pain directly over the sinus area that is infected. The pain usually worsens, and may also cause post nasal drip, fever, redness, and swelling.

With sinus headaches, it’s important to deal with the root cause — the sinus infection — rather than seeking pain relief alone.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches may disguise themselves as pain in the sinuses but they involve more severe pain that can be literally debilitating. It’s common for the throbbing in the head that is associated with migraines to worsen with activity, light, sound, and smells.

Some patients with migraine headaches will also experience auras that occur in the beginning and/or predict the onset of a migraine headache. The aura may be a sign that the central nervous system is super sensitive and the nerves are inflamed.

Doctors are Making Progress in Finding Natural Pain Relievers for Migraines

There are a lot of recent studies that take a deeper look into why migraines occur. One trigger may be a deficiency in riboflavin, a B vitamin. Eleven clinical trials have been done on this topic. The riboflavin has brain protective mechanisms that prevent migraine flare-ups, according to doctors in Saudi Arabia.

Doctors in Germany at the Humboldt University of Berlin found that adult patients with migraine headaches were able to have 50% fewer headaches after three months of taking 400 mg riboflavin daily. The patients also used fewer anti-migraine medications, so hopes are that this vitamin therapy may be a safe and well-tolerated alternative for migraine prevention.

Another study proved that a Ketogenic diet was more effective than a standard diet in reducing the frequency of migraines. And one additional study found that when B vitamin folate levels were high, the frequency of migraine attacks with aura was lower.

High omega 3 fats in the diet also help to decrease the frequency of migraine attacks.

Finally, Vitamin D deficiency has also been implicated in migraines. Studies show that the deficiency causes dysfunction in the nervous system that can then lead to headaches. Vitamin D deficiency was present in 77% of the migraine sufferers in one study performed in Korea. Those with the deficiency had more monthly days with headaches than those with better vitamin D levels.

Headaches as Symptoms of Other Illnesses

The headaches in this category can be either tension headaches or migraines.

Headaches are to be expected after someone receives a transplant, for example. However, doctors in Italy treated five patients with liver transplants and one with a heart transplant successfully with only 200 mg riboflavin daily.  

Infections such as meningitis or other infections can also cause headaches. So can brain tumors or traumatic brain injuries that occur as a result of head injuries. An injury to the brain doesn’t have to be a hard knock on the head to cause headaches; even a slight head knock on the car door can cause them.

Inflammation that occurs inside the blood vessels of the brain is also a cause of headaches. This can be caused by a stroke or even toxins or toxic chemical exposures.

Headaches From Medications

The headaches in this category are usually tension headaches but may include migraines.

The list of medications that cause headaches is quite long. Take a look and see if any medications you may be on could be the culprit in your headaches. Some common culprits are:

  • birth control pills
  • pain relief medications, including ibuprofen, codeine and other prescription pain relievers (these can cause rebound headaches due to overuse)
  • heart medications such as nitroglycerin
  • aspirin
  • acetaminophen
  • sleeping pills
  • medications that contain caffeine
  • triptans
  • hormone replacement pills

Medications almost always come with the risk of side effects. If you suspect your head pain is stemming from medication, address this with your doctor immediately.

As you can see, there are possible solutions and considerations to take when your head starts to feel uncomfortable. But perhaps one of the best preventative measures is to first understand and examine the type of headache you have, narrow down the causal factors, and finally work to eliminate them altogether. Using a systematic approach to this issue can help you make progress and possibly put an end to head pain for good.

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