What causes a headache?
The World Health Organisation has classified headache as a major health disorder and migraine in the top 20 most disabling lifetime conditions. With an estimated three million of us suffering from chronic daily headaches you would think it would be a simple matter to identify and deal with the problem.
Unfortunately women are twice as likely to suffer from this as men and there can be a number of causes including a genetic tendency, stress, eyestrain, low thyroid function,low blood sugar, alcohol and of course hormone imbalance.
The majority of sufferers are women from 20 to 50 but what triggers headaches is different for everyone. Many women when younger suffer during their menstrual cycle and later at menopause due to fluctuating hormone levels.
Doctors agree they can’t agree on a definitive cause so knowing your own triggers could be the best place to start.
The types of headache
Chronic migraine is experienced by 80 to 90 per cent of chronic headache sufferers. Usually they already already have migraines, but the headaches associated with them become more frequent, often accompanied by light and noise sensitivity and nausea.
Two other types of commonly experience headache are a daily persistent pain that comes on suddenly and from that point is almost continuous. The other is called hemicrania continua, where pain is experienced on one side of the head (sometimes alternating), often with watering of that eye.
What can help
Managing your headaches can mean identifying your triggers and stressors and minimising their impact to lessen the likelihood of an attack. Knowing what type of headache is key to dealing with it so discuss this with your doctor to see if medication could be the answer.
Hormone imbalance – particularly low progesterone – may also be something to tackle as many women with this history have found the only time they were headache and migraine free was when they were pregnant when progesterone levels are very high.
Although painkillers might seem like the first resort, and do have a role to play, they need to be used sparingly as they become less effective with time and can even activate headaches.
Studies have shown 80 per cent of chronic sufferers over-use medication but standard painkillers like aspirin or ibuprofen if used more than two weeks a month can cause rebound headaches and not the effect you were hoping for.
Simple self-help measures include getting enough sleep so your body isn’t stressed through tiredness, having a sufficient intake of fluids so you stay hydrated and regular exercise can definitely make a difference.
Finding your triggers is the first step and for many it is everyday substances such as caffeine, chocolate and alcohol.
If you are taking painkillers more than twice a week then that is a definite signal to consult your doctor to investigate this further.