The common aetiologies of headaches are poorly understood and may be caused by a single pathology or multiple compounding pathologies. One common understanding about headaches is that a headache can occur when the various and multiple structures of the head and neck are irritated, such as the brain, spine, neck muscles, teeth, eyes, or shoulders.
Treatment solutions for headaches must therefore strive to treat the anatomical or physiological irritations which cause the headache, instead of the clinical manifestation of the painful headache. At the worst case scenarios, treatment options should aim to provide analgesia, therefore not compounding the original irritant which caused the headache.
Causes of Headaches
The sensation of pain felt during a headache can be caused by referred pain, meaning pain that has come from another location, but due to the nerve pathways has been felt in the headache, such as a neck strain, which is felt as a headache. Alternatively, a headache may be caused by direct pain, such as an infection or swelling of the brain causing direct pain to the head.
Stress triggers the sympathetic response and release of sympathomimetic (drugs like adrenaline that act to make the body more capable during a fight of flight response). Stress can cause a headache through the following primary methods: tightening the muscles in the neck, head, shoulders, abdomen, back and arms. Increases a person’s sensitivity to pain in order to theoretically notice and adjust to outside stimulants faster. Reduce the natural level of endorphins (the body’s naturally produced and released analgesia during exercise).
Certain diets and foods can cause a headache, especially in people with allergies.
Changes in a person’s blood sugar levels, such as a persistently high or a low blood sugar level.
Food additives, such as MSG and many food colourings cause headaches.
Excess caffeine intake or sudden reduction in caffeine intake.
Neck injuries – such as muscular strains.
Stroke – in severe cases a headache may be caused by damage to the vasculature within the head and brain, such as a stroke. Before you run off to the local emergency department certain that you’re having a stroke, keep in mind that almost 25% of Australians have reported having a headache on a regular to simi-regular basis.
Head injuries – even minor concussions, will likely cause a headache.
Eye problems – Eye problems such as eye strain or injuries will cause a headache. If you need glasses but don’t want to wear them, you will likely end up with a headache. Alternatively, if you wear glasses when you don’t need to or if you wear contact lenses for too long, you are likely to get a headache.
Dehydration – is one of the most common causes of a headache. Most people drink too little water, or too much diuretic rich drinks, such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks, which actually reduce the fluids within the body.
Infections – resulting in an irritation of the meninges of the brain or increased temperature will also cause a headache.
Ear, nose or throat problems, such as infections, anatomical problems, and recurrent sinusitis all lead to headache.
Hormonal imbalances – which may occur during different stages of the menstrual cycle, and during menopause may all lead to the development of a headache.
Brain tumours, benign or malignant will also cause prollonged headaches.
Migraines – migraines are more common in women than men and although their aetiology is particularly poorly understood, many researchers attribute their causes to hormonal imbalances associated with various stages of the menstrual cycle and during menopause.
Persistent Hypertension – high blood pressure is considered to be the 2nd most common cause of headaches in older persons, due to the nature of excess pressure building up in the cerebro-vasculature (piping in the brain).
Jaw Problems – such as recent dental work, toothaches, abscesses, mouth ulcers, and recent trauma may all cause headaches.
Poor posture – any posture that consistently causes the spine to deviate from its natural curvature will ultimately place strain up the nervous pathways and into the brain which will result in a headache.
Post Intoxication – the typical hangover headache is caused by the dehydration which often results due to the diuresis caused by alcohol. If you don’t want the hang over headache, make sure that you drink a glass of water for every glass of beer and 2 glasses of water for every glass of spirits!
Noisy Environments – noise is simply sound waves being interpreted by the brain. It therefore makes sense that if you brain has already received too much information for the day, or is concentrating on something else, the last thing it wants is excess noise. Specifically, loud noises, a multiple noises are associated with causing headaches.
Labyrynthitis – Middle ear infections are known to cause dizziness, vertigo, and nausea, which in turn increase intracranial pressure and often result in headaches.
Certain Drugs – both prescribed and ilicit drug are known to causes headaches. Common headache causing drugs include weight loss pills, oral contraceptive pill and ironically, certain types of pain killers.
If concerned about your headache, please see your doctor for more definitive solutions.