Dr. Gray's Straight Talk

Honest and blunt healthcare discussion and advice.

What Type of Headache Do You Have?

Posted by Dr. Gray on Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Most often, when you experience a headache you don’t care what “type” of headache it is… you just want it to go away. Unfortunately, without knowing what type of headache you’re having, you can’t effectively treat it. Whether you are attempting to alleviate it on your own, or getting assistance from your doctor, it is imperative to determine what type of headache you are having in order to get to the underlying cause.

There are many types of headache, but the most frequently diagnosed with common characteristics are shown in the illustration to the right.

Americans spend billions of dollars every year on medications for the relief of headache pain, but these often just mask the pain. Although, this is sometimes necessary, it is only half the battle. You wouldn’t unplug the “Check Engine” light without afterward trying to find out why it came on in the first place, would you? If you must resort to pharmaceutical intervention for temporary relief of headache pain, at least take the steps to find out why you developed the headache in the first place.

Eyestrain Headaches are fairly simple to recognize… and relatively easy to correct. Usually, one just needs to get their prescription updated and wear the proper corrective lenses. However, these types of headache can also be caused by prolonged use of a computer even if your vision is fine. To correct this situation, you need to do three things: place an inexpensive anti-glare screen on your monitor (available at any office supply), change the height of your monitor so it places your head in a neutral position (not looking down to it), and force yourself to get up and stretch at least once every 60-90 minutes.

Hunger Headaches are also easily recognized and avoided. Make sure to have a light healthy snack (fruit, veggies, nuts, etc… make sure they are complex carbs) every couple of hours to help your body more easily balance blood sugar levels. Avoid simple sugars that lead to spikes in blood sugar levels followed by the crash that triggers these headaches.

Sinus Headaches should be evaluated to determine if there is an active infection. This does not mean rush out and get the latest antibiotic trendsetter! Most sinus infections are viral in origin, and antibiotics won’t be effective. Antibiotics are meant for and designed to treat bacterial infections. Your body’s immune system is designed to fight all forms of infection and can most often resolve these illnesses if we will just allow it to do its job. Are antibiotics necessary? Sometimes, yes. However, I would guess that our society utilizes antibiotics ten to twenty times more often than necessary. More often than not, if you’ll just exercise some healthy and smart lifestyle choices, your immune system will be up to the challenge of fighting whatever the world can throw at it.

Migraine Headache is a category that has many different forms and presentations. These are often severe and debilitating and have been attributed to a variety of causes. Ultimately, they develop because something is not working right. These can be related to blood pressure, brain chemical imbalance, exposure to toxins, and a ton of other triggers. The latest medical theories as to the pain associated with migraine refers to both nerve and vascular involvement. Either the nerves are triggering a reaction in the blood vessels, or the blood vessels are responding incorrectly to the signals the nerves are sending, or the brain is reacting improperly to the whole environment… whatever the underlying cause, it is a dysfunction of normal body processes. Nerve irritation or dysfunction alters the brain chemistry which leads to a chain reaction. The severe throbbing often associated with these headaches is thought to come from distention of the veins as chemicals cause the blood to bypass capillaries. Other nerves surrounding these distended veins begin an inflammatory process which also triggers pain signals. 70% of episodes are unilateral, and women are 3-4 times more likely to suffer with these than men.

Tension Headache is the most common form of headache. These also can present in a variety of ways, and can have a variety of causes. It is estimated that one in six people suffer from either episodic or chronic headache pain. Unfortunately, most medications used to treat these conditions have the potential to cause even more troubles. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), especially with repetitive use, have been associated with side effects ranging from stomach bleeding and ulcers to decreased kidney and liver function or failure. In fact, one of the most common side effects of these, and many other, medications is headaches! Medications may mask the pain, but rarely address the cause.

Research suggests that chiropractic is a very effective and natural answer to headaches. A major research study in 1995 compared several weeks of drug therapy to several weeks of chiropractic care. 82 percent of patients given drug therapy reported side effects including drowsiness, weight gain and dry mouth. Heart-related problems and glaucoma also were associated with the drug therapy. On the other hand, chiropractic patients reported no side effects. And after four weeks of treatment, patients who used drugs began having headaches again, while members of the chiropractic group continued to express headache relief, as well as higher levels of energy as compared to the drug therapy group.

In the past 15-20 years, more and more research is documenting the benefits of chiropractic care in headache treatment. Chiropractors are trained to thoroughly diagnose your complaints and are well-equipped to determine the probable underlying cause of your headache pain. Although rare, there are a few more serious causes of headache that your chiropractor can help rule out. After determining if yours is a chiropractic case, he can then help you plan an effective plan of attack that includes dietary/nutritional recommendations, stress relief techniques, ergonomic recommendations, chiropractic care, and sometimes acupuncture. Don’t delay. Contact your chiropractor and start treating the underlying cause of your headaches instead of just hiding the symptoms.

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One Response to “What Type of Headache Do You Have?”

  1. Dr. Arthur said

    Great article! It lays in out in a very easy to read, easy to understand format. I’m definitely going to link this for some patients.

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