There’s nothing like a headache to dampen your holiday fun! Learn how to naturally prevent these episodes from interfering with your plans.
Headaches, including migraines, affect up to 59% of adult Canadians each year. For anyone who has ever experienced a severe headache, it’s easy to understand why life seems to grind to a halt as soon as one sets in. A headache can get in the way of you enjoying your day, it can make anything—even socializing with your family and friends—feel challenging, and it can detract from your mental focus and productivity at school and work.
Not All Head Pain is the Same
The discomfort caused by a tension-type headache can feel like your entire head is trapped in a merciless, skull crushing vice while the excruciating pain caused by a cluster headache feels like sharp bolts of lightning piercing through one side of your brain.
Migraine headaches are a separate beast. These combine head pain with a variety of other symptoms such as:
- gastrointestinal discomfort including nausea, constipation, diarrhoea
- excessive thirst and/or excessive urination
- hypersensitivity to environmental stimuli such as bright lights and loud sounds
- aura (which can be visual, sensory, aural, or aphasic, which is also known as dysphasic and is defined as a loss in the ability to comprehend and articulate verbal, written, or signed language)
- changes in disposition including irritability, extreme sadness, anxiety
- fatigue or hyperactivity
- neck stiffness
- food cravings.
This suite of symptoms may be prodromic (that is, they may occur prior to the onset of the migraine proper and therefore serve as early signals to the headache) or they may be concurrent with the migraine.
When Headaches Become Chronic
For people who suffer from chronic headaches or recurrent migraines, the discomfort can be debilitating. Prescription and over-the-counter medications aren’t always effective treatments, and it can be challenging to understand exactly what you can do to help prevent the onset of a headache.
Clinical data suggest that it's important to take note of changes in the pattern of headache occurrence, because without taking effective remedial and prophylactic measures there is a tendency for this condition to worsen over time: your headaches will progressively increase in frequency and intensity.
If you notice that headaches shift from being sporadic incidents to being regular, chronic events, it signals a need for heightened medical attention. Unfortunately, overuse of medications that quell acute symptoms without addressing root causes could hasten the tendency toward headache chronicity.
Although there is no agreement over what could be long-term solutions or panaceas certain natural remedies, medicinal herbs, foods, and lifestyle habits can be effective in preventing and mitigating head pain. Because these generally don’t have side effects, you can test them to find the ones that work best for you.
The Root Causes of Headaches
Part of the reason that there is no panacea for relieving headaches is that headaches are a multifactorial condition with a complex aetiology. There are many root causes and each episode can be different for each person.
In general, a headache is caused by extraordinary or extreme vasodilation or vasoconstriction in the brain, which creates increased pressure or a drop in oxygen levels (a condition known as hypoxia), respectively. However, these vascular changes in the head can result from numerous factors including:
- muscle tension
- high blood pressure or other cardiovascular conditions
- illness and/or infection
- fasting and/or hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels)
- premenstrual / menstrual pain
- physical and/or mental exhaustion including insomnia
- adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs.
Notice that in all of the above listed factors, inflammation is either a primary root cause or aggravating factor. This is why anti-inflammatory drugs are a classic antidote and among the first remedies that people reach for when their head is throbbing. Over the long-term, this isn't an effective solution even though it might offer temporary relief.
In the upcoming blogs, I will address each root cause individually and suggest natural remedies that can help prevent and alleviate headaches caused by each one.