Chronic Headaches - Causes and Treatments
Many things can cause headaches, including seasonal allergies, too much alcohol, or skipping lunch. While they're not fun, these headaches are usually one-time events. However, chronic headaches are a different story. Chronic headaches happen more frequently than you'd like. Chronic headaches can be complicated to deal with.
Migraines and chronic headaches can be excruciating. Millions of dollars are spent annually on treatments for these illnesses. Although there is no known cure, there are treatments that can help patients relieve their pain and reduce the frequency of attacks. To prevent migraines, eating a balanced diet rich in magnesium is essential. Magnesium is found in foods like avocado, leafy greens, and tuna. Foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids are also helpful for migraine sufferers. These foods include fish, nuts, and seeds.
Managing stress is also essential for preventing migraines and minimizing their intensity. You can do this by taking regular stress breaks and practising deep breathing techniques. Staying hydrated is also essential because dehydration is the number one trigger of migraines. Lastly, regular exercise can also help improve your health and prevent migraines.
Frequent, increasing headaches characterize chronic tension headaches (CDs). The causes of this condition can vary, but they usually involve tight muscles. Other triggers can include stress, hunger, or tiredness. Some people risk tension headaches due to their lifestyle, such as long work hours sitting at a desk. However, many cases of chronic tension headaches develop for no apparent reason.
Tension headaches are generally milder in the morning and gradually worsen throughout the day. They usually do not disturb sleep and can occur on both sides of the head. While tension headaches are not severe, they can interfere with daily activities, preventing you from working or studying. Chronic tension headaches can also cause depression and increased stress.
Chronic and cluster headaches can cause discomfort and pain, so getting the correct diagnosis is essential to get relief. A family physician can rule out other causes of headaches and refer patients to a neurological consultant. Neurologists are experts in treating patients with severe headaches and can conduct imaging and additional testing as needed.
A common cause of chronic headaches is tension. Muscle tension increases pain sensitivity and increases the intensity of the headache. Most people have mild to moderate intensity tension headaches. Several factors can trigger a tension headache, but these triggers are different for everyone.
Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (TACs)
Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias are a group of primary headache disorders. They are usually characterized by lateralized headache symptoms and cranial autonomic features. These headaches have been the focus of much medical research and have several therapeutic targets.
The most common type of TAC is a cluster headache. Attacks can last anywhere from 15 to 180 minutes and are typically episodic. About 0.1% of the population is affected by cluster headaches. Patients describe the pain as akin to the pain associated with a fractured bone, renal colic, or childbirth. During an attack, the patient's autonomic nervous system may experience a state of sympathetic inhibition or overdrive, which may contribute to the onset of the headache.
Chronic headaches after a traumatic event can develop. While there are no definitive causes, they are often associated with PTSD. A health care provider should ask the right questions to help make a diagnosis. Patients should explain their headache's characteristics, and the symptoms should be investigated further. Red flags, such as nausea or positional headaches, may indicate other causes.
Post-traumatic headaches are debilitating and sometimes lifelong. Treatment options may include behavioural, pharmacological or interventional methods. Although these conditions are not life-threatening, treatment options should be explored if they are considered long-term. Post-traumatic headaches may be categorized as secondary or primary, and clinicians should seek to determine which nociceptive driver is responsible for the onset of the condition.