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BRAIN DRAIN

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

From oversleeping on the weekend to having sex, there are many surprising things that can cause that throbbing pain in your head. Priyanka Singh tells you about an assortment of headaches that you might be unaware of

Brains can’t feel pain. A headache is a pain sensed in the nerves and muscles of the head and neck, as well as the meninges (the membranous covering of the brain and spinal cord). Your brain itself cannot sense pain, so a headache has nothing to do with your brain hurting. It is actually a pain somewhere around your brain, being picked up by nerve endings. Early research suggested that there were primarily three types of headaches —migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches. However, astoundingly, there are several types of headaches triggered because of various reasons. We tell you about them, their triggering factors and how you can ease them.

REBOUND HEADACHES
Rebound headaches are chronic headaches that occur due to overuse of medicines. Dr. Rakesh Singh, a neurologist at S. L. Raheja Hospital tells us, “You take a medicine for your headache and after the effect wears off, the headache comes back.” But, what makes the headache chronic? Regularly taking any painkillers, such as aspirin, more than twice a week, or taking migraine drugs for more than 10 days a month, can put you at risk for rebound headaches in just a few months. Dr. Vyankatesh Joshi from SDF Holistic Healthcare & Research Centre tells us that they can be sudden and quite severe. He says, “Stop overtaking painkillers and consult your doctor at the earliest.”

TENSION HEADACHES
This is the most common type of headache, which usually feels like a constant ache or pressure — rather than throbbing — on both sides of the head or at the back of the head and neck. Triggers include stress, anxiety, bad posture and clenching your jaw. These headaches can become chronic, although they usually aren’t severe. Dr. Rakesh says that it helps greatly if there’s a reduction in work load and stress levels. Over-the-counter pain relievers also help, but in severe cases, prescribed drugs may be needed.

EARLY MORNING HEADACHES
If you’re waking up in pain, there are several possible culprits. One could be that your medication may be waning while you sleep, resulting in a rebound headache. Sleep apnea sufferers may also be prone to headaches early in the day, as are those with dental headaches (see below). Dr. Rakesh adds that these headaches might need investigation to rule out brain pathology as there could be a structural lesion in brain. However, such cases are very rare.

CLUSTER HEADACHES
These one-sided headaches are short-lived (15 minutes to three hours), but are excruciating. These are so painful that they’re referred to as suicide headaches. The occurrence of these headaches is not consistent. They can recur regularly, sometimes multiple times a day, for a certain period of time and then stop for months or even years. According to Dr. Rakesh, triggering factors include alcohol, cigarettes, high altitudes and certain foods. He also says that at an acute stage, oxygen therapy might be required. Dr. Vyankatesh adds, “Normally medications are used but if that is not helpful, then the patient might have to undergo surgery.”

SINUS HEADACHES
People with migraines often mistake them for sinus headaches. One study found that 88% of people with a history of sinus headaches probably had migraines instead. Symptoms like sinus pressure, nasal congestion and watery eyes can happen in both types. A true sinus headache is related to an infection and comes with nasal discharge that is green or tinged with red. Dr Rakesh tells us that viral and bacterial infections or certain allergens can cause sinus headaches. “They can be resolved by taking antibiotics. They can also subside by putting hot pads over the nasal sinus or gargling with lukewarm water,” adds Dr. Vyankatesh.

MIGRAINES
A migraine is a disorder characterised by repeated attacks of severe headache. It is a common form of headache that is believed to occur as a result of complex interactions between the nervous system and the vascular system, as well as alterations in brain chemicals. According to Dr. Shreepad Khedekar, clinical director of Imperial Clinics, they may occur as often as several times per week or as rarely as once or twice a year. Migraines are three times more common in women than men. Speaking about the factors that can cause migraines, Dr. Shreepad says, “Allergies and allergic reactions, bright lights, loud noises, certain odours or perfumes, physical or emotional stress, changes in sleep pattern or irregular sleep, smoking or exposure to smoke, skipping meals or fasting — all of these factors can trigger a migraine.” Some lifestyle alterations that might help to reduce the frequency of migraines include sleeping enough, reducing stress, drinking plenty of water, avoiding certain foods and regular exercise. Also, your doctor might prescribe medicines to deal with the condition.

DENTAL HEADACHES
Dr. Karishma Jaradi, aesthetic dentist at Dentzz Dental Care tells us that headaches including facial pains can be linked to problems in the mouth. The root cause of these connects to a person’s dental problems. Wisdom teeth can cause a headache which affects the nerves and causes chronic headaches. Misaligned bite is among the main causes of these headaches, which cause tightness and pain in the temples, across the forehead or on the back of the head. The upper and lower jaw being different in size or malformed can also lead to severe headaches. If your bite is unstable due to poorly aligned teeth or even a missing tooth, your muscles work harder to bring the teeth together causing pain in the head. Poor dental restorations, such as crowns and fillings, also can cause an uneven bite. It is experienced even more in those individuals who grind their teeth at night (Bruxism) and clench their jaws. Karishma says, “Dentists can make various types of appliances that fit over the teeth and allow the muscles to relax. Other treatments involve correcting your bite so that the muscles are not strained.”

CAFFEINE HEADACHES
If you have a habit of having coffee at 8am and on a certain day you aren’t able to have it, rest assured that you’ll be greeted by a headache. It can be severe or mild and is known as a caffeine withdrawal headache. The chances of you experiencing the headache increase with the number of cups you have each day. There are two solutions: either give in to the cravings or quit altogether. While the headaches will be consistent for a couple of weeks after you go cold turkey, they will eventually disappear.

ORGASM HEADACHES
These headaches occur after having an orgasm. You usually experience it after coitus, but they can even arise during sex. The intensity is dull and can linger for a few hours after intercourse. Usually they go away on their own. Dr. Vyankatesh says that if you’re prone to this type of headache, taking a pain killer an hour before sex may help.

ICE CREAM HEADACHES
Many people complain about an intense pain in the head when they are enjoying an icy cold treat. People who suffer from migraine problems are more susceptible to these headaches. Dr. Vyankatesh gives us the facts behind this headache — extreme cold sensation causes constriction of blood vessels at the roof of the mouth which increases the supply of blood to one of the brain’s arteries, leading to pain. What can you do about them? Sip on some warm water and the headache will eventually ebb away.

CHRONIC DAILY HEADACHES
If you experience headaches at least 15 days a month and it has been three months since you’ve been facing this problem, then you’d be better off by not ignoring the pain and blindly popping painkillers. These could be caused by overuse of pain medications, head injury or, in rare cases, meningitis or tumours. After series of tests and observations, and treating the root cause, this headache can be cured.

MENSTRUAL HEADACHES
As if PMS and stomach cramps were not bad enough to deal with! These headaches are caused by estrogen levels suddenly dropping. They appear three days before your menstruation starts and two days post it has started. Dr. Vyankatesh says eating whole grains, leafy vegetables and taking magnesium supplements or over-the-counter headache remedies help.

WEEKEND HEADACHES
Dr. Vyankatesh says that during the week, we lead a stressful life. And when the weekend arrives, there is a sudden change from stress to rest. That combined with oversleeping on weekends, going to bed later or caffeine withdrawal results in weekend headaches. Over-the-counter medication and sticking to your regular sleep-wake schedule can help to a great extent.

EMERGENCY HEADACHE
According to Dr. Rakesh, this is the most severe headache. Many of Dr. Rakesh’s patients have described it as the worst headache of their lives. What makes these headaches fall into the immediate attention category? One is the sudden appearance of a sensation that makes you feel that your head is going to explode. Another is when a headache comes with a fever or extreme rise in blood pressure. Other symptoms include vision or speech change, neck stiffness and loss of sensation or muscle weakness. It’s triggered because of high blood pressure, blockage of a vein, common aneurysm, or an infection in the brain.

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