Frequent headaches are a special kind of hell.
Headaches. Sometimes they come on spontaneously, immediately destroying our ability to enjoy ourselves, concentrate on work, or pretty much just function like a human being.
Other times we get that creeping warning feeling, the beginning of pain, leading to desperate self-questioning. Should I take medication now, or wait? Would a cup of coffee help, or make it worse? How long is this one going to last? But maybe what we should really be asking ourselves is why we keep getting headaches in the first place.
Of course, headaches do happen once in awhile to everyone. Very frequent headaches are still sometimes referred to as “chronic daily headaches,” but Dr. Alexander Mauskop, MD, Neurologist and Director of the New York Headache Center in New York CIty says he no longer uses the term; instead, “we divide very frequent headaches into categories of chronic migraine, which is by far the most common type of headache that used to be called chronic daily headache.”
How to know if your headaches fall into that category?
“It is defined as headache that occurs on 15 or more days each month and on at least eight days has migraine features,” says Dr. Mauskop. And you’re not alone.
“It is estimated that anywhere between two and six million Americans – depending on the study – suffer from chronic migraines,” he says, adding that other types of headache include chronic tension-type, new daily persistent, chronic cluster, and a few other uncommon types.
A healthy lifestyle — a healthy diet, exercise, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress — is key to avoiding headaches, as is understanding what your triggers are. If you have any concerns or accompanying symptoms (such as blurred vision or heart palpitations) — don’t hesitate to contact a doctor. But headaches on their own can affect every aspect of your life, from work to relationships and basic happiness. Understanding why they happen can help make frequent headaches a thing of the past. Here are five things to know…
Contrary to popular belief, stress does not cause headaches, even though it sure can seem that way when your boss is tearing you a new one or you’re arguing with your beloved. What stress does do is exacerbate the pain.
The root cause of headaches is genetic, “but triggers such as stress… make attacks more frequent and severe. Stress leads to release of adrenaline, which in turn leads to the depletion of magnesium and other biochemical changes that bring on attacks of migraine,” explains Dr. Mauskop.
So learn to manage your anxiety; stress might not be to blame for headaches, but it sure doesn’t help.
2. How you sit at work
Yes, sitting hunched at your desk or bent over the computer can cause muscle tension, which in turn can lead to migraines. And it doesn’t stop there.
“Migraine itself causes muscle tension and it results in a vicious cycle,” says Dr. Mauskop.
“So, muscle tension is both a trigger and the result of migraines.”
That’s a huge bummer — but it can also be a huge motivator to learn more about ergonomics and why you should stand more at work. And since we now know that stress can make your headaches worse, try easing your work stress, too.
3. Your hormones
Cramps, bad moods, a seemingly endless flow of blood… yup, your period consistently delivers the good times, and headaches can be part of it, too.
“A drop in estrogen prior to ovulation and especially prior to the menstruation increases pain sensitivity and lower the threshold for a migraine,” Dr. Mauskop says.
There are ways to address this, including skipping the placebo pills in your birth control pack or taking medication. But consult with your doctor:
“Estrogen-containing contraceptives taken continuously can help prevent these migraines, but in some, they can worsen them,” warns Dr. Mauskop.
Sooo, here’s the thing about caffeine. Well, first of all — coffee! Secondly, caffeine can actually help relieve the pain of headaches. In fact, it’s included in some prescription and OTC drugs. Having said that… caffeine can also make headaches worse.
“Regular daily intake of as little as two cups of coffee can worsen headaches, and this is due to caffeine withdrawal,” says Dr. Mauskop.
“So, people feel better for a few hours or even more than 12 hours, but then wake up with a severe caffeine withdrawal migraine.”
What to do? Examine your caffeine intake and determine what might be helping… and what might be hurting (a lot).
5. Lack of Sleep
For those of us who stay up into the wee hours of the night binge-watching Breaking Bad or checking up on our exes via social media, sleep can seem like it’s pretty low down on our list of priorities. But sleep is so important for so, so many reasons.
It helps keep us emotionally healthy, it lowers our risk of serious illness, it keeps our immune system going, it affects how our brain functions… the list goes on. On top of all that, “lack of sleep results in an increased irritability of the brain, and lowers the threshold for migraines,” says Dr. Mauskop. All in all, there are a ton of reasons to make sure you get enough sleep (seven to nine hours for adults ages 18-64, according to the National Sleep Foundation).
Images via shutterstock.com and giphy.com.
Comment: How do you manage headache pain?